The Sugar Plum Fairy & Strawberry CrepesSunday, December 31, 2006
Yesterday Rebecca, Lauren and I went to a performance of Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. It was to be a co-production of Ballet British Columbia and Alberta Ballet but I only spotted three Ballet BC dancers. From our seats up in the nether reaches of the "gallinero" we were still able to hear the nutcracker-grinding sounds by a pleasantly loud Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. This was to be a real test for Lauren(4). It was her first attendance of a full-length ballet.
I cannot understand why this usually overlong ballet seemed to cruise along so quickly but it did, very nicely. Even Linda Lee Thomas, the VSO's pianist, would have been glad! Rebecca and I had attended a few Royal Winnipeg Ballet Nutcrackers with Evelyn Hart where we dozed and woke up for the Evelyn Hart parts. Lauren was awake and alert through the whole performance. Perhaps it had to do with our inside connection with the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Sandrine Cassini, The Sugar Plum Fairy, was our very favourite classical ballerina, And we knew that after the performance (she was fantastically light) we would join her at Robson's La Vieille France creperie. But we first went to the dressing room.
I find it hard to believe that with so much dance talent on stage, the door to the backstage dressing rooms, was devoid of clamoring, giggling and screeching little girls. Nobody was there. We opened the door and entered. We asked for Sandrine and we were told to wait. Not a few seconds later Sandrine appeared all wet and wearing nothing but a blue bath towel and hugged us all.
As we walked to the creperie, Lauren kept asking, "Is the Sugar Plum Fairy going to have crepes with us?" I kept answering, "Yes."
We had strawberries and whipped cream on our crepes and the Sugar Plum Fairy opted for a toasted ham sandwich.
The Vampire With Furniture In StorageSaturday, December 30, 2006
I first met Inga V, one afternoon, 28 years ago when she was working not far from from the Main Police Station. She specialized in showing everything without revealing anything. She looked at me in the darkness and I thought my days in this world were over. She looked at me, raised her right eyebrow, and I didn't know where to hide. But as I got to know her I found out there was a rosy side to her if you looked for it.
Inga had some identifiable and odd patterns. She owned valuable furniture. When she had it out of storage it meant she had a good relationship. When it was in storage it meant her emotional life was in state of flux. In one occasion she put her furniture in storage and followed a young man to Halifax who wanted to be a submariner. Inga wrote to me in shock about the trend then in Halifax for wicker toaster cozies. It was in there that Inga had to learn to drive a truck. She had until that point never driven anything. I cringe thinking about the hapless driving instructor having to teach a woman who could have easily been channeling Catherine the Great or Elizabeth Bathory-Nadasdy.
It was my tragedy to find out that Inga was an excellent makeup artist and stylist who could make instant dresses with long bolts of satin and safety pins. This meant that she was behind my camera more often than in front. But then she kept talking about this other photographer who could make her even more beautiful and I felt diminished in the comparison. I won magazine awards where my secret weapon for success was my collaboration with Inga.
Inga lent me her very used copy of Interview With A Vampire when it first came out, so we tried this series. I made several blunders like cropping her head at the wrong place or underexposing her. At the time her paramour was a South African set designer who was very jealous.
Some years later I photographed her (successfully) on her bed with her cat and in her tub (without the cat).
Love At The ArchFriday, December 29, 2006
For close to 10 years I took photographs of women in the "best" room of the downtown Marble Arch. The place was never noted for Champagne breakfasts, valet parking and other four star hotel ammenities. But the fact was that I could get a room there whenever I wanted to from my friend Tony Ricci. And I also knew that when I was at the Marble Arch nobody could find me unless I told Tony I wanted to be found. In the first few days of January 1991 I showed up with Claire Love to take some photos. Guy gave me the key to the room and we went up. I shot my pictures untethered to any flash. I rarely did this or do this since taking pictures with a small camera with no lights seems to be so easy. Here are a few of Claire who was on her way to get married in Paris.
I never saw her again.
Chronic ArgonautsThursday, December 28, 2006
That was the original title of H.G. Wells' Time Machine.
In these days before the end of them for 2006 (and in other years at this time, as well) I, too, am a chronic argonaut and I go back and revisit the past. There are four books that I sometimes re-read about now, or at least think about. In all of them there is a chronic argonaut who goes back in time, unlike Wells' whose visitor goes forward.
In The Dechronization of Sam Magruder written by that most famous paleontologist of the 20th century, George Gaylord Simpson, our traveler finds himself the only human being, inexorably stuck 80 million years into the Jurassic era. His loneliness in knowing he will never meet a fellow human being nor to ever be able to tell his coleagues of his time (February 30, 2162), that dinosaurs are cold blooded is sobering for the reader. I prize this little book that has a forward by Arthur C. Clark and an afterword by Stephen Jay Gould with the others, my favourite time travel novels.
In L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall a bolt of lightning transports an American history professor from 1939 Rome into the period before it falls ( 1288 Anno Urbis Conditae). The unusual premise of this book is that the professor does not pre-invent gunpowder or teaches Romans the use of electricity. His sole modern convenience, a wristwatch serves no purpose. But with knowledge of double entry bookeeping and the making of brandy from wine through the distillation process, Dr Padway not only saves Rome from the barabarians, but he rules it and changes history.
In 1989 I had to photograph accountant Dennis Culver who then lived on Eagle Island. It told him about Lest Darkness Fall. He was so interested I lent him the book. He mailed it back with a pleasant note that read:
Many thanks for the loan of your book "Lest Darkness Fall" which is returned herewith. I found it both enjoyable and interesting and am now more appreciative of the valud of double entry bookeeping and distillation, especially in the hands of a frenetically exploitive individual.
I was charmed in 1970 when I first read Jack Finney's Time and Again. Being able to travel back in time (New York City in the 19th century) by ensconcing oneself in the Dakota and using the imagination and will to transport oneself into the past is more plausible to me than the chemicals used in Daphne Du Maurier's The House on the Strand. But the latter book is really my favourite of the four, perhaps because, even after repeated readings (my first was in 1970) I have never figured out the twisted ending.
Our time traveler, Dick Young lives in the Cornish setting of so many of Du Maurier's novels. He travels back to the 14th century and invisibly (he cannot be heard nor can he affect anything with his presence) participates in a cloak and dagger soap opera that involves three wealthy families, the Champernounes, the Carminowes and the Bodrugans. Dick Young's travels become addictive until he can barely exist in the 20th century. It ends:
The telephone went on ringing, and I crossed the room to answer it, but a silly thing happened as I picked up the receiver, I couldn't hold it properly; my fingers and the palm of my hand went numb, and it slipped out of my grasp and crashed to the floor.
My Mother's Mandarin CoatWednesday, December 27, 2006
For years I have seen but not looked into an envelope my mother always had with her. The neat handwriting on the envelope reads: Sita. Filomena de Iruretagoyena. It is dated 19 de abril de 1936.
Since I can remember my mother confessed to me that she had really only loved one man. He was a Filipino doctor called Ramón Andía. The tragedy of all sons (or at least this one) is that we are told almost everything when we are not curious. So we forget. And when we become curious those that can tell us are dead. That was the case with my mother.
I recently received a letter from a gentleman, Paul Kwon, who met her in North Carolina. She had been in Greensboro around 1970 to visit her brother Tony. Paul Kwon and my Uncle Tony flew model airplanes together. Mr Kwong wrote:
I remember all the stories he used to tell me about his life. He used to brag about his sister who hated the piano but through sheer determination became an accomplished pianist. He told me the story over and over again to make a point. I met your mother a long time ago when she visited Tony. I remembered Tony telling me that she lived in Mexico city. She had dark hair that was tied back. She was striking.
I always knew my mother played the piano very well and that she loved playing it. But this revelation makes me realize how little I knew about her. I never asked.
But she did tell me many times how her heart had been broken in Manila in the mid 30s and how she had gone to Manila Bay and removed a huge opal ring and threw it into the water. From that time she never ever wore opals telling me they were bad luck.
On really elegant parties my mother always wore a blue silk Chinese coat that Dr. Ramón had given her. She called it, my Mandarin coat." It came with a matching pair of blue silk slippers. Around 1962 I photographed her in it. My mother had severe bouts of Meniere's Disease. She had a constant ringing in her ears and suffered from terrible dizzy spells. For the photograph she could barely raise her head from her pillow.
By the end (she died in our house in Mexico in 1972) she suffered the frustration of playing her Beethoven Sonatas without being able to hear them. It was during those Mexico City days when my mother was a constant companion to our eldest daughter Alexandra (Ale).
Rosemary and I taught all day so my mother took care of her (until Ale was 4). There seemed to be a battle of wills. One day when we arrived my mother said, "Ale threw all the books I was reading to her out the window in a tantrum." While Ale has only hazy memories of my mother she has some special affinity for her. She was thrilled when in 1992 I asked her to pose with my mother's Chinese coat.
Last year at a Filipino weddding in North Van I was introduced to a Mr. Daniel Andía. The man was Ramón Andía's nephew. "I cannot believe it," he told me, "You say your mother loved my uncle but did not marry him? He never married". He told us he would never love again."
Until she died my mother wrote painful and depressing poems about her lost love and how he was in her thoughts at all times. Her compiled poems begin with this letter:
Most of these poems are written inspired by you. They're not much but they are an expression of repressed feelings. You'll recognize yourself, though perhaps disguised under "blue eyes" or other characteristics.
You always wished to be loved by someone and all these years, thirty in all, maybe a little less, you've been loved dearly and cherishingly with no hope of return. I realized I loved you too late. I couldn't turn back. My course was set to a fallen star.
I hope these get to you when I am gone. I'd like to have the satisfaction, even in the beyond, that you've found me out.
You always had my respect, admiration and love.
I have invited Ale to come for a visit. I want her to read out loud the 12-page letter from Dr. Ramón Andía that begins (my translation from Spanish) :
I am going to tell you a story, a long and sad story which I would never be able to tell in its entierety, personally. It is a confession of weaknesses that destroy my apparent strength of character. You thought you knew me but you will find out that you barely got to my second floor. But you must also know that if anybody would ever get that far it could only be you.
I believe that the contents of the letter will reveal why it is my mother cast her ring into Manila Bay. A few years later she moved with her mother, brother and sister to Buenos Aires. In 1941 she married her "fallen star", my father.
The Filipino TimexTuesday, December 26, 2006
Phileas Fogg, a stickler for the exactitude of time made a mistake: He forgot about crossing the International Date Line. Because he had traveled eastward, he gained the day he had lost and won his bet. Since then, with the invention of ever more accurate Swiss chronometers and those clocks that set their time via satellite to an atomic clock somewhere in the US, time has never been so exact. Yet through Einstein we know that clocks in separate trains going at relativistic velocities will run differently or even stop in relation to each other. As time got more exact it paradoxically became relative.
Any boy who tried to wish time to flow more quickly between those 12 days of Christmas and Los Tres Reyes Magos the three wise men of the Epiphany on January 6) when Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar would fill and overflow our shoes left outside our door would attest that Einstein was right.
We suffered those sweltering Buenos Aires summer days knowing that time would drag almost to eternity. We never questioned nor challenged the foolishness of those English-style Argentine trains that arrived at Retiro Station at 7:53 am or left my Coghlan station at 7:03 am. Argentines have long since adopted Mexican time and the usual Mexican excuse for being late, "Se me hizo tarde." This short sentence translates approximately to, "I did not notice the passing of time and by the time I did, I was late and it was beyond my control."
Aybody who has been around for at least half a century will know that time flies ever more quickly and those 12 days of Christmas go like a flicker. You decorate the Christmas tree, you sweep the needles to make it all neat for Christmas Eve, and suddenly it's the Epiphany and the tree must come down.
In 1986 I purchased a Timex (made in the Philippines) for $50.00. Its case is made of titanium. Since then I have had a new battery installed only twice. It is a very good watch and the proof is that Timex has not made that model again. It is accurate but it cannot adapt to months with fewer than 31 days. It compensates with a feature I am almost unwilling to reveal. The watch is water-proof so I wear it in the tub. It does not happen with any kind of predictable frequency but I swear that every once in a while, when I stare at the second hand long enough, it stops, just for a bit.
What 64-year-old would not wish that those 12 days of Christmas be an eternity?
Christmas 2006 - NochebuenaMonday, December 25, 2006
Since I can remember we have celebrated Nochebuena or Christmas Eve. This is the second year that we have invited someone for dinner who is not part of the family. Abraham Rogatnick was that guest and it delighted Rebecca to have him at the table. In years past Christmas Eve fun has been dampened by my insistance in taking the Christmas group photo. It is difficult, and more so, when we must include Rosemary's cat Toby and my female Plata. Having each person sit for a Polaroid has made it easier. We used the theme of Lauren's teddy bear.
Rebecca was practicing her piano when Abraham arrived. We were amazed at listening to him singing Beethoven's Ode to Joy in German while Rebecca accompanied.
Our menu (Abraham's, 84, only condition is that there were to be no onions) was as follows:
1. Adalyn Lindley's Chicken a la Barbara (Lauren refused to eat this last time so we told her it was paprika chicken and she ate it with gusto)
2. Steamed rice, snowpeas & carrots.
3. Grilled red peppers.
4. Lettuce and tomato salad.
5. Dessert was a pavlova Rosemary made. We had fruit available but everybody indulged in slathering Argentine San Ignacio dulce de leche on it. Hilary made her famous cookies, we had fudge, Spanish marzipans from Alicante and Filipino polvorones (shortbread).
We drank an Argentine torrontés white wine, and an Argentine Doña Paula Cabernet Sauvignon. The kids had blended pineapple (with ice, sugar, water and orange juice).
All in all it was a pleasant evening in which Rosemary and I anticipated that best day of the year, Christmas Day, when we do nothing except, perhaps, read in bed.
Merry Christmas to all who may read this. Feliz navidad. Maligayan Pasko.
Corey Cerovsek Now (Dec 23) & Then (1987)Sunday, December 24, 2006
"Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear, thy dial how thy precious minutes waste"
Sonnet 77, William Shakespeare
Sometime around 1985 I saw a series of photographs at the Presentation House in North Vancouver. They were photographs of four sisters taken in a beach in Massachusets by photographer Nicholas Nixon. The photos had the four women (one is Nixon's wife) always in the same order. I was drawn to these photographs and I stared at them for a long time.
In 1954 my mother took me to see The Living Desert, a Walt Disney documentary directed by James Algar that won the first Oscar ever for a documentary film (1953). The film was about the flora and fauna of the deserts of the American South West. It featured (it was a state of the art novelty in 1954) time lapse cinematography so that desert blooms opened before your eyes. Time seemed to pass by quickly.
We are far more practical in modern times. Why wash your jeans 50 times before wearing them? You can buy aged, stone washed, faded jeans with "the look" of your favourite pair. Buying antiques can be tough as the antique might just be one of those instant antiques. The effect of time on the human face can be a shock if you haven't seen a long lost friend for a while and if Botox or corrective surgery have not had some play. Without being too aware we ourselves can be a shock to others as we remember ourselves as being young. But there are pleasures to be had in documenting the face over time. I might just be around to photograph Rebecca at the point when she ceases to be a child and becomes a woman. Will I know?
I understand Nicholas Nixon's 35 year-and-counting obsession with the Four Sisters. Besides doing this with my own family I have photographed Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson for 25 years. But he was full grown the first time I photographed him. In the case of violinist Corey Cerovsek I started when he was 14 (above, right). Yesterday's morning session in my studio was our fourth. And we always use a marking pen to draw a violin's f-hole on his palm. We drew generic f-holes. This time Corey brought his "Milanollo" Stradivarius, of 1728, as reference. I dared not touch it as the instrument was played, among others, by Christian Ferras, Giovanni Battista Viotti, and Nicolò Paganini.
Cerovsek mentioned that his petit amie said that our former artsy effort (above) was too much of a Hitler pose. I was careful not to repeat it. This time around I decided to make Cerovsek a bit older by using a green filter and dramatic lighting. After seeing his simultaneous performance as soloist and leader/director in Friday night's concert of baroque music at the Chan I thought that the "older" look would be interesting.
Cerovsek says that our next assignment might be in a couple of years or more. I felt sad that it won't be soon but I did manage to get a more playful photograph where we substituted the f-hole with something more seasonal.
Corey Cerovsek One More Time
Jann Of The Ardent HartSaturday, December 23, 2006
In the beginning of November 1991 The Globe & Mail's Vancouver arts correspondent and I went to the A&M office to interview Jann Arden. The piece you see here ran Saturday November 19th. I was elated that the Globe went for my idea of running two pictures.
I have been re-filing and looking inside all my files. Sometimes those improperly (or quickly) fixed resin coated Ilford photographic papers deteriorate with time. One of my photos of Jann Arden did just that. I decided to send the picture to Chris Dafoe who is now an articling lawyer. This was his reply:
Thanks for that. I remember interviewing Arden at A&M's office and thinking that she had a great story, starting with the drunken busking in gastown and closing with a sort of redemption. The deterioration of the picture makes for an interesting editorial comment.
Arden has never been shy about revealing her flaws --she was very forthcoming about the lost years when I spoke to her and, over the years, she's proved to be that rare beast, a self-deprecating pop star -- and, in an odd way, the discolouration brings out that aspect of her character without disturbing the serenity you captured in the original.
Hope your Christmas is a happy one.
Hurrell's Johnny Weissmuller - John Boorman & Peter BreckFriday, December 22, 2006
Rebecca was hanging from the bannister a couple of years ago. She was imitating an ape. I grabbed her hand and told her, "Let's go and get a movie at Videomatica." We rented the 1932 Tarzan the Ape Man with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan and saw it as soon as we got home. I then showed her a George Hurrell portrait of Johnny Weismuller (below).
In December of 1991 I waited for Duthie Books'after Christmas sale to buy one of the most expensive books I have ever bought. The asking price for Hurrell Hollywood - George Hurrell - Photographs 1928-1990 was $90. The 20% off discount made it more bearable. I bought two copies. One for me and one for art director Chris Dahl. I had been shooting in the Hurrell style since 1985 now and perhaps with the book Dahl might just allow me to keep at it for a while longer. Hurrell's photography made stars of actors and actresses who would have perhaps never made it. The most famous example was Norma Shearer. Hurrell made her shine and look far more glamourous than she was.
Some photographers, particularly the purists (and I have been one in my past), argue that we live in a one star planetary system so photographs should mimic the sun and a shadow in one direction is enough. Purists would abhor all those wonderful films noir with the projected venetian blinds, low angles and multiple and ominous shadows. Before the advent of Photoshop and the air brush, Hurrell's very large negatives were retouched by massive removal (as in scraping) of actor's skins (on the negative) and with red pens a gentle glowing skin replaced what was banished. A famous Hurrell portrait of Gary Cooper shows Cooper with a cigarette in mouth and his skin glows like Photoshop Diffuse Glow used by modern glamour photographers and on magazine covers to eliminate "annoying" skin pores.
It is that Weissmuller photograph by Hurrell that has always caught my eye. It is dark and you cannot really see his eyes. Rebecca often asks me to look at the picture in my Hurrell book. I am excited when Rebecca does different things from what I expect but I am also pleased when we seem to coincide in what we like. After staring at the picture she goes to the bannister and hangs and swings while bellowing out a pretty credible Weismuller/Tarzan yell.
While my 1985 portrait of Vancouver body builder Mike Hamill (top right) is not a Hurrell you might just see a passing resemblance. By 1987 I felt a bit stifled in my imitation of Hurrell and decided to go my own way. One of the results is this odd portrait of British film director John Boorman where I literally brought my studio lights to Boorman's room at the Vancouver Hotel.
It has all kinds of mistakes like the low angle (I have removed his nose hairs with Photoshop) and the light spills on his nose. I like it nonetheless.
By 1989, when I photographed Vancouver actor Peter Breck (top, left, he played Doc Holliday in the series Maverick) I had eliminated one of the three lights and started using a 3x4 ft softbox really close. This is now the style I am most comfortable with. I am able to worry less about light placement and I can concentrate on communication with my subject. I can say that Peter Breck was just about the easiest subject I ever had to photograph. I warned him that with my deep green filter I was going to make him look like a vampire. "Do it. I don't give a damn. Do your job," he told me.
I think I am going to rent some of his movies and show Rebecca. Will she want a toy 45?
Peter Breck One More Time
A Siberian Husky, Santa Claus & The Piggly WigglyThursday, December 21, 2006
At age 64 I find it very hard to identify myself as a Canadian, a Mexican or an Argentine. I become that more confused at Christmas time. The fact is that I have now lived more in Canada than in Mexico or Argentina. I lived in Austin, Texas for five years. Might I be an early product of globalization as I feel very American? It may have had to do with our decidedly American Christmases.
While in Buenos Aires my family celebrated Christmas when most of Buenos Aires' kids (then) put out their shoes on the eve of the Epiphany (January 6). We called it Los Tres Reyes. None of my friends understood who "my" Santa Claus was. I could not (then) have explained that Santa came to my house via Manila. My mother had been born there and the Philippines, as an American protectorate, celebrated a snowy Christmas in the tropics. It was equally startling to see our Christmas tree in our BA house. It was usually 38 degrees celsius outside.
My first Mexico City Christmas in 1953 was equally strange. My grandmother was a diplomat who worked at the Philippine Embassy. She told us that as a diplomat she had to live in a nice home. So she, my mother and I lived (with Rusty, Siberian Husky) in a grand old house on Sierra Madre Street in the very fashionable Las Lomas de Chapultepec district (colonia). That Christmas my grandmother had given me a brand new Raleigh bicycle so my guess is that the Santa Claus in this picture taken very near my house on Explanada Boulevard happened sometime before the new year.
My Aunt Dolly (my mother's younger sister) lived in Mexico City. Her husband, Bill Humphrey was an American geologist who drove a candy red Buick Century. That car and our Siberian Husky were one of a kind in Mexico City. An outgoing American geologist has given us his dog. Rusty had the habit of escaping and going after other dogs, cats, chickens that he could find in the neighbourhood. My mother, often had to pay for dead chickens that were shown as evidence that Rusty had gone on a prowl. Our Mexican neighbours feared Rusty as he never barked but would howl on full moons or to greet us when we came home.
In school I was laughed at because of my Argentine Spanish so I quickly learned to speak like a Mexican. By then the memory of that illustration in the Argentine Billiken (a children's magazine) that showed the Bishop St Nicolas of Bari as being the real Santa Claus was no longer my proof for his existence.
I grew up (or so I thought) by the end of that year. I would cycle to the nearby American shopping district where at a bookstore I discovered Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and the Hardy Boys . There was also a Piggly Wiggly store that catered to the Americans of Las Lomas. That's were I found my first box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. I must have become an American then.
It was also about then that my grandmother thought I was old enough to hear her story. She told me how she had left Manila in 1920, a penniless widow, with her three children, to live in the Bronx. She told me they had disembarked from a Japanese ship in a magical place that had enormous conifers, that was called Vancouver. She told me they had walked into a cavernous train station (the CP Station at the foot of Seymour Street) to take a train that took them to New York City.
I did not know then that someday I was going to share with a Canadian wife a fondness for Kellogg's Honey Crunch Corn Flakes.
Bach and Bing At The ChanWednesday, December 20, 2006
Abraham Rogatnick (a Harvard architect) Graham Walker (designer and responsible for the sineage at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC) and I went to an Early Music Vancouver concert, The Bach Cantata Projects: Festive Cantatas for Christmas. The musicians were my very favourite Pacific Baroque Orchestra plus guests including the scrumptious Australian violinist LucindaMoon. The featured solo vocalists were Tyler Duncan, baritone, Colin Balzer, tenor, Laura Pudwell, alto and Suzie LeBlanc soprano.
Not known by many is that the cheapest seats in this cavernous house are to be had at the front five rows. For this concert our third row CC seats were perfect. We could see and hear the singers as well as that huge instrument with such a gentle sound, Ray Nurse's theorbo. Also from our vantage point (audience, right) we could hear the continuo section including Christina Mahler's stupendous sounding cello and violoncello piccolo.
Unfortunately from where we were sitting I also had a clear view of Lucinda Moon sitting, front row, as concertmaster (Marc Destrubé was the musical director). I was undecided if I should concentrate on Moon's eyes or that mouth of hers. While some would think that an Australian accent would spoil the sensuous mouth I would beg to differ. For my sanity I decided to concentrate on other things; to be precise, on one man, Bing Thom.
Bing Thom is the architect whose design became the Chan Centre. In my past I have photographed this cheerful man many times and I have come to admire his intelligence on so many things.
My friend, urban affairs writer, Sean Rossiter and I both agree that Bing Thom should be drafted (American style) and made city mayor. I think ex city councilor Gordon Price would agree.
In one of my conversations with Thom he told me he taught (when under his wing) architect Arthur Erickson how to meditate. Thom's views on how to make our city a liveable city seem to coincide with both Arthur Erickson's and Gordon Price's.
While Bing Thom is very alive and well I am including here a photograph (he calls it his Mao swimming in the Yangtze) I took of Thom on his back in the pool of one of the houses he built in Vancouver's Southlands district. The colours are all because the photographic paper was improperly fixed. Going into my files enables me to find such hidden and accidental treasures.
During the intermission Abraham likes to mingle with the crowds to talk to all his friends and his many ex-students from his UBC School of Architecture days. Graham and I quickly returned to our seats. The crowds were too big. I told Abraham, when he returned, that Bing Thom had failed in his design of the lobby. It simply is too narrow. Abraham was adamant in his disagreement saying that the solution was an easy one. Lineups to the bar should be parallel to the bar. That would solve everything.
The Chan might be new in comparison to my beloved St James'Anglican but it already has ghosts of what will soon be a Christmas past. !That downunder violinist!
A Dog, A Turtle & Robert E. Lee's HorseTuesday, December 19, 2006
One night when I had tasted bitterness I went on to the hill. Dark heather checked my feet. Below marched the suburban street lamps. Windows, their curtains drawn, were shut eyes, inwardly watching the lives of dreams. Beyond the sea’s level darkness a lighthouse pulsed. Overhead obscurity……I sat down on the heather. Overhead obscurity was now in full retreat. In its rear the freed population of the sky sprang out of hiding, star by star.
On every side the shadowy hills or the guessed, featureless sea extended beyond sight. But the hawk-flight of imagination followed them as they curved downward below the horizon. I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of the little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolution, its increasing hunger for community, was but a flicker in one day of the lives of stars.
Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon 1937.
When I read that in Buenos Aires in 1965, in its first translation into Spanish, Hacedor de Estrellas. with its now famous Jorge Luís Borges prologue, I too soared into the sky and into the extreme limits of the galaxies with the unnamed narrator. The narrator, un-aided by LSD or any other trip-inducing drug went on a voyage that I think has no match in literature. Perhaps by going to the stars, English writer Stapledon could discover something about our humanity. I think he did better with his 1945 novel Sirius. Sirius is a great experiment, a dog “created” by Thomas Trelone which (who?) has the brain of a human. Serius is raised with the family’s daughter, Plaxy. In one of the most memorable parts of the book, this dog with its superior ear for music suffers while Plaxy tortures Bach on the piano. If only Sirius could have human hands to play!
It was there that I caught on that the best way to discover ourselves was by seeking a point outside our body. That point of view, as Stapledon so well demonstrated, could be literary.
Around 1974 it all fell into place when I attended a lecture by Spanish born anthropologist Santiago Genovés Tarazaga at the University of Mexico. He had been on board Thor Hyerdahl’s Ra I and Ra II expeditions. He had been the leader (the only man with a crew of women) in a raft from Africa to America, in the Acali expedition of 1973. Genovés was illustrating the point on the difficulty that historians have in being objective. I became most alert when he said,
“We must not forget that objectivity is a subjective invention of man.”
I have been a sucker since for books like Sirius. Richard Adams is well known for his rabbit family, novel Watership Down . Far better for me, is his 1988 Traveller. The two lld Traveller happens to be Robert E. Lee’s 8-year-old horse, who in the stables of Washington College, Lexigton, Virginia, reminisces with Tom, a domestic cat who is his friend. If there ever was an account of the follies of war and of men this book is it. I read it once a year.
I have a new book to add to my list. I have just finished a delightful little novel, Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Linkenborg, Borzoi 2006. Timothy is a 40 year-old turtle who tells us of life in the 18th century village of Selborne, famous for its naturalist Gilbert White, a pastor who happens to be Timothy’s master. Timothy somehow records, in his own way, Gilbert White’s observations on the plants, birds and animals of this parish in Hampshire. We get some extra goods. As in Stapeldon’s Sirius we find out a bit about ourselves through the incisive observations of a turtle whose first love was a delightfully named Mrs Rebecca Snook. All the descriptions are in correct English with the lilt of a creature who has only two positions in life: 1. Feet on the ground. 2. Feet in the shell. Timothy’s explanation on his fatalistic loneliness:
The sufferings of my solitude Mr. Gilbert White plainly feels. My hermit-like condition. But it is a mammal’s condition of solitude. I was laid in solitude, hatched in solitude, all but conceived in solitude. " One of the first dictates of nature," Mr. Gilbert White notes of maternal affection. But it is only as strong as the helplessness of the newborn. Humans at one extreme. Tortoises on the other.
Pinocchio's Donkey EarsMonday, December 18, 2006
When I converse with my granddaughter Rebecca I wonder how many grandparents remember both sides of the coin as I do. I have vivid memories of the only grandparent I ever knew, Dolores, (a.k.a., Lolita)Reyes de Irureta Goyena. I knew her before I could ever remember her. She was always in my life until she died in Mexico in 1977. By then she did not know who she was, and like Lady Macbeth had a mania for taking baths and washing all day as she got ready for bed, earlier every day. I have a strange bond with my wife Rosemary. Not only did she meet my Abuelita but she loved my mother who breathed her last in bed at our home (my mother lived with us the last two years of her life). It feels strange to share so much of my past with Rosemary. But by the time we went to see Abuelita at her nun's nursing home she did not recognize either of us.
Because my Abuelita was widowed in her 20s with three children (my mother, uncle and aunt) she quickly learned to fend for herself and to become financially independent. She was domineering, had a sweet tooth and a penchant for things artistic. She often told me we were the same.
As a young boy in Buenos Aires I remember when my mother and I took the number 35 tranvía from our Coghlan home which snaked its way to her downtown apartment on Saenz Peña. On the way we passed the Villa Devoto Penintentiary where my father would spend unscheduled holidays courtesy of Juan Perón who did not like what my father wrote about him in the Buenos Aires Herald. A couple of years ago I even remembered Abuelita's apartment number. My mother wrote about the 35 in one of her poems:
I thought I'd never miss: -
The interminable wait for tram 35
The long & never ending route it took,
But I do
And I remember. -
At Abuelita's apartment my mother would play the piano and my Aunt Dolly accompanied on violin. Uncle Tony would sing (songs from 40s Hollywood musicals) in his fine tenor and Abuelita would dazzle us with her coloratura soprano. It was then that I was first exposed to Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor .
I sometimes sit at this computer while Rebecca plays the piano with the supervision of Rosemary. Yesterday, Sunday, Rosemary was singing as Rebecca accompanied on the piano. She played a piece called Pirate of the North Sea.
To this day I remember all the sayings my grandmother used to educate me. I saw more of her than I did of my father or my mother in my early youth. She never told me to, "Do that, or do this or don't do this." Her method involved refranes (sayings)lifted from Don Quixote. If I refused to eat she would say, "El que por su gusto se muere, cantando lo entierran," or "Those who by their own choice die, singing we shall bury them."
What I said to her was also important. In January 1949 (I was 7) my mother, my grandmother and I went on a vacation to the seaside resort of Mar del Plata. By the time we got there I had a full-blown whooping cough. At dinner time, when we sat at our hotel table, my grandmother would look at me seriously and would tell me, "No tosas." But I would cough anyway and the waiters would all stare. One such evening my grandmother asked me what I thought of her beautiful dangling earings. I told her, "Parecen orejas de burro." Perhaps since she had recently taken me to see Pinocchio, donkey's ears came to mind!
She grabbed me by the hand without showing any anger and led me to the nearby beach. She removed her earings very carefully and gave them to me. She indicated what I was to do. I threw them into the sea.
My Rebecca is 9 and I understand why everything she says to me is so important and why she has an incredible capacity to make me happy or sad. She is unaware but the cycle will repeat.
Modernettes Christmas With Kenny ColemanSunday, December 17, 2006
Reflecting on the difference between working for magazines now and back in the 70s and 80s I would say that there a couple of important differences. They used to pay more. And it used to be more fun. The "one size fits all" handout and or stock photograph killed style and individuality in magazine photography. Our current obsession to not offend has been the coup de grâce for having fun.
In the 70s and 80s Vancouver Magazine had a Christmas scene photograph that accompanied a witty "Christmas story" on a local band written by Les Wiseman whose column In One Ear was followed by anybody who was anybody in the music industry in those days. Even a short pants kid by the name of Mike Usinger (who now edits the music section of the Georgia Straight) used to wait for the fat Christmas edition of Vancouver Magazine to be delivered to his door step.
Two of those Christmas photographs, one on the alternative scene band the Modernettes and the other on jazz crooner Kenny Coleman are seen here. The former ran December 82 and the latter in December 85. They are both here because if you compare that excellent pair of legs wearing leopard skin pumps you might find a startling match with those of Mary-Jo Kopechne's legs in the I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Modernettes Christmas (John Armstrong, a.k.a. Buck Cherry, Mary-Jo Kopechne, Ian Noble and Randy Carpenter, a.k.a. Randy Valentino)
John Armstrong & the Modernettes
A Subhuman Christmas
Our first Christmas, December 1980 In One Ear involved the Subhumans. Les Wiseman interviewed them in my Burnaby home and I took this photograph in my basement studio. For years I had admired master animator Marv Newland. He never gave me the time of day. A few days after Vancouver Magazine appeared with this photograph, Newland began to talk to me!
From left to right, Jimmy Imagawa, drums, Wimpy, vocals, Mike Normal, guitar, and foreground, Gerry Useless, base.
A DOA Christmas
For this 1984 In One Ear Christmas Les Wiseman persuaded me to tone down the Christmas angle so that DOA could use the photographs for their soon to be released album, Let's Wreck the Party.
A Seduction In PianississimoSaturday, December 16, 2006
Last night's PBO concert at St James' Anglican was a bittersweet experience. Rebecca did not attend. Her mother, has never seen her in a concert situation and does not understand how she enjoys the performances and how she banters with the musicians after. So I had to eat double the amount of Oreos to compensate! And the only proper way is to pry loose gently one chocolate cookie so as to be able to scrape off that glorious white filling. Lucinda Moon (centre in photo, Glenys Webster, violist on the left, Paul Luchkow, violinist, on the right, Rebecca bottom left) sat beside me after her virtuoso performance of the the Four Seasons and told me, "I had all kinds of Australian snake stories to tell Rebecca."
I sat next to Patricia Canning (she who has the keys to the belfry) who said, "I have heard hundreds of Four Seasons but this is the first one I have really listened to. Behind me, during the standing ovation I heard someone shout, "Thank you!" Why was this Four Seasons different? If you have memory, and I have memory, I remember that a few years back the PBO played them with its musical director, Marc Destrubé as soloist. And it was as electrifying as last night's performance. What was different, then?
Part of that difference is in that both Destrubé's and Moon's were live performances. No fantastically recorded CD of whatever baroque orchestra you can name can ever compete (for me) with the actual performance where you can almost see the sound waves bouncing off the large floor flagstones of the church. Since Moon is not only the soloist but the director she has this delightful style of pirouetting (like a Whirling Dervish in slow motion) so she is able to nod to the musicians. In her plain long black skirt and top ( and wearing black silk bedroom slippers) Moon is in gentle command. But this is even more exciting to watch when in the many violin and cello duos (in Summer) Moon approaches the sitting Laura Kramer and the result is as close to what I have seen of a rock guitarist sidling up to the base player for effect.
The pianississimo moments were extra pianississimo and the acoustics of St James' enabled me to listen to secondary sounds emanating from those violins that I had never heard before. And from my front row seat I noticed that in the opening Spring, Moon, Paul Luchkow, and Michelle Speller's violins, mimicked, perfectly, singing birds with the extra help of Moon's eyelashes. They were vibrating bird wings.
But the best came last when Moon played the Winter Largo. She had next to no ornamentation (I like mine with lots of ornamentation). She didn't play it slow (I like mine very slow). The poem that accompanies the Largo has to do with being happily ensconced next to a fireplace while hundreds of people are outside in the rain and the cold. There was no sweetness in Moon's performance here. It was an intelligent statement of the fact, "I am in this warm place and unfortunately most of you are out in the cold."
But there was something else in Moon's performance tha I felt. With her violin she seemed to me to be also saying, "And you, please, come in from that cold and sit here, right next to me."
And so I was seduced.
A Christmas Carol - Hunks - Dogs & A Serious Camyar ChaiFriday, December 15, 2006
Yesterday morning, before Rosemary and I went to last night's performance of the Playhouse Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol, author and Georgia Straight film reviewer John Lekich told me that I was into a rare treat of being able to see a great actor who had not forgotten the theater despite ample success in the film world. "You are going to like Alex Diakun ( Scrooge)."
With that out of the way I must say it is impossible for me to be objective about this play, or is it a musical?
As a Latin American born before globalization, eBay and Thai burritos, I like my sweet on one side of the plate, and my sour on the other. I love opera and I love film. I absolutely hate those things that Americans (and Canadians) call musicals were perfectly sane people on film or stage suddenly begin to sing for no reason at all.
With that out of the way I have to say that both Rosemary and I loved A Christmas Carol even though the man on our right laughed even in the serious parts and the young lady in front of us (who works for Bell Telephone) was text messaging with one finger, on a screen that glowed far brighter than anything lighting designer Itai Erdal (upper, left) could shine on stage.
For us (and Rosemary never seems to like anything) it was about as perfect as a play can get. But then Rosemary has never seen a play with Dean Paul Gibson that she hasn't liked a lot. I am glad that Dean Paul Gibson is past his young hunk stage (as seen here, upper right) and was so perfect last night as both a dog and, dressed in drag, as Mrs Dilbert. If not I just might get jealous.
Joelysa Pankanea's music and her performance of the xylophone was perfect and almost Weillian in its gentle dissonance. We liked the stereo effect of having the base and xylophone on one side of the stage and Scott Hughes' manly (it's about time that men push out all those women and make this instrument their own) harp on the other. Mark Haney was just right on base but I was distracted by his fantastic face (Rosemary brought binoculars). He looked like an officer in the Army of the Confederate States of America.
Mara Gottier's design of Patti Allan's costume of the Ghost of Christmas Past was perfectly over the top and would have delighted my granddaugher Lauren (4) who would have seen her, as I did, as the Teletubbies' long lost mother.
After so many years in Vancouver, part of the fun of going to a play is to see so many on stage that I have photographed in the past. It was curious to see Camyar Chai (bottom, right) play it straight and serious.
I seriously think I like him more as funny. But then how can anybody compete (even Alex Diakun) with Dean Paul Gibson? I cannot wait for next year's new Playhouse Theatre Company production of Mother Goose with Gibson and Christopher Gaze, directed by Morris Panych.
Maiko Bae Yamamoto (below, left) as the Chost of Christmas Future, managed to walk on those huge stilts without flubbing her lines.
A Christmas Carol is on until December 23. I regret not having taken my Rebecca (9) as she would have enjoyed it.
Four Seasons In Three ChurchesThursday, December 14, 2006
This Friday at 7:30 the Three Musketeers will be sitting at the front row pew of St James'Anglican Church, 303 Cordova in East Vancouver. This special concert by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra will feature Vivaldi's Four Seasons and the music of other remarkable but lesser known composers like Francesco Durante and Pietro Antonio Locatelli.
On Tuesday, Father Mark and his dog Bear let us in through the sacristy door of St James'Anglican Church in Vancouver. Violinists Lucinda Moon and Paul Luchkow, violist Glenys Webster, my granddaughter Rebecca and I entered the darkened church. Father Mark turned on the lights and we recognized our old friend, built between 1935 and 1937. We were there to take the picture you see here (Glenys Webster, left, Paul Luchkow, right, Lucinda Moon, centre). The idea is to tell a few more people of the wonders to be heard at this most interesting Vancouver church.
Rebecca already knows about St James as we attend all the unannounced (relatively) Pacific Baroque Orchestra concerts held here. She likes to visit the belfry (during concert intermissions) with the woman who has the key, Patricia Canning. Both Rebecca and I scrape the filling off the Oreo cookies served with coffee and tea at the concert intermissions. We have discussed how interesting it is to know that a most English church is dedicated to a most Spanish saint, Santiago. But then a few of us know that the English architect Adrian Giller Scott was most Catholic. Rebecca and I have gone through every Station of the Cross. St James' Anglican is as close to being Catholic without being so! Musicians who play here have given the church an affectionate nickname, "St James Smoky". Patricia Canning (she lives nearby and volunteers her services at St James) told me the smoky smell comes from the high quality true Omani frankincense that is burned during services.
One of the singular pleasures I enjoy in Vancouver is to listen, from the front row, to my favourite baroque music played live at such intimate concert halls as the UBC Recital Hall, the UBC Chapel and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra's yearly series held on Saturdays at St Augustine's Catholic Church and on Sundays at West Vancouver United Church. It is even more intimate since I know all of the musicians as I have been attending the PBO concerts since 1992. After the performances we like to linger and ask the musicians questions about the music and their instruments. Soon they are your friends. During the last four years I have been taking Rebecca and also going with architect Abraham Rogatnick and designer Graham Walker. We four are the Three Musketeers.
Rebecca asked Lucinda Moon , the visiting soloist from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra about her shoes. Moon described them, "They are made from a cow that didn't shave." I asked Moon how she was going to play that most beautiful Largo from Winter of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. "It will be a surprise," she said. I have attended Lucinda Moon's previous collaborations with the PBO. If you haven't be prepared to be doubly surprised.
For those who will be going to hear Corey Cerovsek (I will be there with Rebecca and her mother Hilary) play the Four Seasons with the Vancouver Symphony at the Chan Centre on the 22 or the 23 of December this is an excellent opportunity to compare notes and note the differences in sound and approach between Moon's baroque violin (and the other baroque strings of the PBO) and Cerovsek's "modern" “Milanollo” Stradivarius of 1728.
While I would not stop you from going to the PBO's concerts at the other two churches, St Augustine Catholic Church in Kerrisdale is particularly beautiful, you now know that on the Friday before any of the official concerts you can enjoy beginning at 7:30 pm (There is a pre-concert talk at 7) the PBO and Oreos at St James's Anglican. This does not mean that you should not pay at the door. Minors don't, but you hardworking adults can always contribute to the worthy cause of St James'Anglican. The musicians, including Paul Luchkow (see below), will smile.
Marc Destrube and Bach's Brandenburg Concertos
PBO Violinist Paul Luchkow's Explanation On Series
Our "Eastside Community Concerts" series is an initiative of the PBO with the help of St. James' Anglican Church and the UBC Learning Exchange. It is funded by grants from 2010 Legacies Now, the Opportunities Fund of the Spirit of BC Arts Fund, the Hamber Foundation and the Koerner Foundation.
The program was conceived to provide regular performances of PBO's music, free of charge, for the members of Vancouver's Downtown East Side community. In this way, the PBO will share its music in a form of public art, five times this year, with a community where people may not have the financial resources to afford concert tickets but where they could, nonetheless, enjoy the many recognized benefits of exposure to live music.
Pacific Baroque Orchestra
St James' Anglican Church
David Lemon on St James' Anglican Church
I like Adrian Gilbert Scott's St.James's space, square, solid and reassuring. And it's an intriguing link to the Scott family that gave us the sublime Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station in London - as both engineering marvel and scenery, and the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world at Liverpool (the number one spot being held by St. John the Divine in New York) among other gigantic and more intimate contributions to Gothic revival architecture. When I was growing up much of this was disparaged. Many of the most exuberant buildings in the big cities were then cloaked in grime and all but abandoned, and it took the best part of a hundred years to recognise that they are covered in superbly integrated ornament and redolent of a broader culture entirely missing from the cheap and dour 'fifties minimalism that masqueraded as purity. As many others do I recall with sadness the superb Doric Arch by Philip Hardwick at the entrance to Euston Station which was destroyed in 1962 to make way for the vulgar efficiencies of the age. Then, everything that paid hommage to the culture of the ages was deemed fraudulent. St.James's sits on the cusp of modernism, a bold concrete echo of Byzantium and Normandy.
Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) designed St John's College at Cambridge but is best known for his Midland Grand Hotel at London's St Pancras Station (photo, left).
One of his sons, George Gilbert Scott, Jr.(1839-1897) designed St. John the Baptist Church at Norich. He was an alcoholic. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in a bedroom of the Midland Grand Hotel which was designed by his father.
The other Scott son was architect John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913) and he designed Hereford Cathedral.
George Gilbert Scott, Jr had two sons who were both architects. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a staunch Catholic designed the Liverpool cathedral,the largest Anglican cathedral in England. He also designed the General Post Office's K2 and K6 kiosks (the ubiquitous English red telephone booths.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's brother, Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882- 1963) visited Canada and designed St James'Anglican.
His nephew and his brother's son, Richard Gilbert Scott runs the family firm.
My Father, Bob & I - Mashed PotatoesWednesday, December 13, 2006
I had never heard of the term comfort food until my wife Rosemary used it. For her it's mashed potatoes with a fried egg on top. Her mother taught her to chop up raw onion and mix it with the mashed potatoes. It would seem that even the onion makes this old standby a predictable comfort.
Art for me can also be comfort food. When I revisit a city, I rarely want to see new things. This applies to my art-gallery visits. Perhaps it is no different from my boyhood visits to the Buenos Aires Zoo were I wanted to see the lion, the tiger, the zebra as if these were Platonic absolutes. Certain works at the art galleries become old friends. In Madrid, Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez beckons at the Prado. In Paris, I'm a sucker for the Mona Lisa. While at the Metropolitan in New York, I spend an inordinate amount of time examining the details of Nicolas Poussin's very large Rape of the Sabine Women. In Washington, DC's National Gallery, I never get tired of Winslow Homer's Right and Left, two ducks askew in the air, shot by a hunter on a boat below. Closer to home, at the Seattle Art Museum, I always hope my old friend Gold Fish on Shirt , an astounding dye transfer print by photographer Ralph Gibson, will be up on the wall.
This comfort of the familiar is what makes my family Christmas special. The routine begins with the Christmas Eve dinner and my faking, after dinner, to my now grown daughters and my two granddaughters that I am feeling drowsy and that we should open the presents on Christmas Day. The trimming of the tree a week before is pure nostalgia as the ornaments have been in the family for at least 40 years. I must admit, though a more recent routine. An almost worn-out 1979 John Denver & the Muppets Christmas LP is our music of choice.
Coincidentally, my favourite painting from the permanent collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a Christmas scene. I last saw Joanne Tod's, 1983, My Father, Bob and I (above with my friend Samuel Frid) in 1996. Since then, the enigma of the title in relation to the trio on the sofa, with the large Christmas wreath behind, has led me to enquire, usually at this time of the year, when the painting will next be on display.
Not too long ago when I called the VAG an irate PR woman shouted at me saying, "You mean that you are asking the VAG to hang a painting on demand?"
While I know that perhaps it would be too much to ask the VAG to hang My Father, Bob and I this Christmas, I shall count on Santa interceding next year with the powers that be.
Rubén Derlis - Versito - Augusto Pinochet
From the very beginning I have made the decision to never rant or get political here. My Argentine friend, retired copy editor ( El Clarin) and poet Rubén Derlis (seen here posing in my boyhood Buenos Aires train station of Coghlan) has sent me his versito or little poem on the death of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. I will not translate it into English simply because somehow our distance from Chile from here in Vancouver has perhaps cushioned our horror on the man. This poem, even if Derlis calls it with the affectionate term versito, is a damning, almost caustic condemnation on the man. Its title translates as, "unhappiness at the death of an infamous man. Here it is:
DESALEGRÍA POR LA MUERTE DE UN INFAME
Como el agudo espanto y el dolor se consumen,
ni espanto ni dolor te aguardan. Solo y maldito seas,
solo y despierto seas entre todos los muertos,
y que la sangre caiga en ti como la lluvia,
y que un agonizante río de ojos cortados
te resbale y recorra mirándote sin término
“El general Frando en los infiernos”
Hoy tengo desalegre la alegría pero constato una certeza:
No hay justicia divina, menos un juez omnipresente;
la justicia que escape de manos de los hombres no tendrá veredicto
y el culpable quedará sin castigo.
El más allá no existe, nadie podrá cobrarle;
es en el más acá –el único posible– donde se ajustan cuentas.
Dejó una larga deuda de crímenes que ya no pagará.
No saldó ni uno solo de su reptar siniestro,
quedó a deber la sangre que bebió en años de odio.
No fue nada la muerte del infame,
la muerte nos sucede a todos.
Y el olvido caerá sobre su nombre
porque a veces la historia tiene frágil memoria.
Debió sobrevivir todas las muertes de su maldita estirpe,
de cada uno de su genealogía que después de él fueron engendrados,
sin posibilidad de ahogar su aire con suicidio.
Debió haber vivido por una eternidad de larga noche
de espesas pesadillas de vómitos y gritos.
Pero todo le resultó muy fácil, sin sobresaltos ni arrepentimiento,
de la misma manera que masacró a su pueblo.
Lo velaron como si fuera humano.
Se merecía la charca infecta y pestilente,
o el basural donde se arrojan los desechos quirúrgicos;
pero a los buitres nunca: sólo comen carroña,
apartan la inmundicia genocida, el pus dictatorial.
Cerró sus ojos amarillos de pescado podrido
pero con rostro placentero como un abuelo tierno.
Lo cremarán, para no ofender a los gusanos.
Ahora hay que vigilar al ave Fénix,
porque sus pútridas cenizas permanecerán sobre la tierra.
Rubén Derlis and Friends
Seville, Oranges, La Giralda, Spooks, Robert Wilson & A Sumo WrestlerTuesday, December 12, 2006
My Manila born grandmother always talked about her Valencian mother and for many years I confused Valencia with Sevilla. My grandmother Dolores set me straight, “La ignorancia es atrevida.” (ignorance is daring). She told me many stories about Seville which she had visited as a little girl. Seville has captured my imagination since. From this city’s port, el Puerto de Triana, Spain’s ships sailed down the Gualdalquivir to the New World. It was at the Archivo de Indias, designed by Juan de Herrera, who also designed the Escorial, where “all that was known” of the Americas was housed. My uncle, Don Luís de Miranda y Gimenes, a scholar who specialized in the naos de Manila , the Manila galleons, that sailed back in forth to Acapulco in New Spain often told me of its wonders. Particularly wonderful were the electric blue quetzal bird feathers he had seen.
But my abuelita Lolita's favourite story was of an event that happened during the Castilian reign of Enrique IV of Trastámara. Alonso de Fonseca, a nephew of the Seville Archbishop, was himself designated Achbishop of St James Compostela. Because there was a Galician uprising there, Alonso de Fonseca’s uncle volunteered to go in his place as long as the nephew consented to warm his seat in Seville. When the Archbishop returned to Seville Alonso de Fonseca refused to give up his seat and only did so after the pope’s intervention. Since then the saying in Spanish “El que se fue de Sevilla perdió su silla,” or “ He who leaves Seville will lose his seat,” is used as reason for taking over a seat unknowingly left vacant at a movie or theatre.
I finally did make it to Seville in 1985 with Rosemary, Alexandra and Hilary. My grandmother would have told me, “ Asomaste el rabo,” or that I showed my monkey tail (ignorance). I went up to the lovely Moorish bell tower of la Giralda , which is part of Seville’s cathedral and I took many photographs of the bell including one where Alexandra is seen as a shadow. I did not know then that the tower is not named after its bell but after its weathervane or giralda, a beautiful woman who represents faith that is on top. From the Giralda I was able to look down on the Patio de los Naranjos , with its long rows of orange trees and glimpses of the cathedral cloisters.
In the middle you can see the shadow of the Giralda and part of the weathervane on the top.
We were never able to take a ride in the yellow wheeled horse drawn carriages because Hilary, 14, cried and told us the horses were being ill used.
All in all our stay was unpleasant as the city was extremely hot and the staff of the Alfonso XIII hotel, used to earlier and more opulent times when bullfighters of renown stayed there, thought that we Americans (Spaniards then had no concept of Canada) were scum.
But it is only now that I am enjoying my grandmother’s Seville. Her magical Seville is a bit on the gritty side and horrible murders happen in it with unusual frequency. It is fascinating nonetheless. It is the Seville of British author Robert Wilson's police procedurals featuring the urbane and complex Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón whose father was a famous painter with ties to Spanish Morocco.
I had to wait for two years for Robert Wilson’s The Hidden Assassins which is the third novel featuring Javier Falcón and his Seville which Falcón calls the hottest city in Europe. The other two novels are The Vanished Hands (2004) and The Blind Man of Seville (2003). What I find most interesting is that Wilson has done his homework. He explains the almost alien (but very practical) Spanish legal system. Every murder case has a Juez de Instrucción or instructing judge. He is in charge of the crime scene and works with the homicide squad from the beginning to put together the best evidence in order to secure a conviction. When one of these jueces cuckolds Javier Falcón the Seville Fair heats up.
This latest installment features Arab terrorists and spies who communicate through secure blogs. It is so realistically told and explained that I wonder if Robert Wilson was present in Washington DC when our very own Atom powered Tim Bray was there to brief spooks as to the methods to be used.
Wilson’s Javier Falcón reminds me of Michael Dibdin’s Venetian born Aurelio Zen. Falcón’s views on death are similar. Here from The Hidden Assassins:
Seville – Monday, 5th June 2006, 16 hrs
Dead Bodies are never pretty. Even the most talented undertaker with a genius for maquillage cannot bring the animation of life back to a corpse. But some dead bodies are uglier than others. They have been taken over by another life form. Bacteria have turned their juices and excretions into noxious gas, which slithers along the body’s cavities and under the skin, until its drum tight over the corruption within. The stench is so powerful it enters into the central nervous system of the living and their revulsion reaches beyond the perimeter of their being. They become edgy. It’s best not to stand too close to people around a ‘bloater’.
Normally Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón had a mantra, which he played in the back of his mind when confronted by this sort of corpse. He could stomach all matter of violence done to bodies– gunshot craters, knife gashes, bludgeon dents, strangulation bruises, poisoned pallor – but this transformation by corruption, the bloat and the stink, had recently begun to disturb him. He thought it might just be the psychology of decadence, the mind troubled by the slide to the only possible end of age; except that this wasn’t the ordinary decay of death. It was to do with the corruption of the body – the heat’s transformation of a slim girl into a stout middle-aged matron or, as in the case of this body that they were excavating from the rubbish of the landfill site beyond the outskirts of the city, the metamorphosis of an ordinary man to the taut girth of a sumo wrestler.
Burriana, Seville Oranges & Dundee Orange Marmelade
Since the little farming village of Burriana had no harbour curving out to protect the shore, it could have no pier; storm waves driving in from the east would periodically destroy attempts to maintain a quay. So the huge barges which conveyed the oranges to the freighter had to be loaded ashore. Each barge was hauled onto dry land and crammed with barrels containing oranges it must have weighed several tons.
'Why barrels? 'I asked, watching the procedure with binoculars. 'They are barrels, aren't they?'
Obviously when the barges were loaded they had to be dragged back into the water in order to be floated so that they could be rowed out to our ship. How to do it? In Roman times businessmen using this coast for the transfer of freight to Italy had solved the problem. They reared a breed of oxen tht thrived in salt water, and now these huge beasts, working in the sea with often only their eyes and horns visible, backed close to a barge while workmen attached chains to their harness. Then with men who also lived mostly in the sea whipping at them and cursing, the great beasts strained while everyone ashore pushed on the barge. Slowly, slowly the near-swimming oxen and the men and the shouting got the barge moving. Slowly it left the shore. The massive oxen moved deeper and deeper into the sea, so that the men directing them had to keep afloat by grasping the oxen's horns, and in this way the oranges in their steel barrels were ferried out to our ship......
I now discovered why the oranges were being delivered in steel drums, for the captain directed that a hose be thrust down into the Mediterranean where the water was clear, then ordered the deckhands, 'Knock out the bungs,'and presently all the drums were opened and I saw that the oranges inside had been cut in half. The resulting juice, of course, did not fill the barrel, and the empty space was now to be filled with sea water.
'What's the idea?'I asked.
'Everything sloshes back and forth, all the way to Dundee,'The captain said.
'To accomplish what?'
'It prepares the rind for making marmelade.'
There were two schools of thought aboard the ship. The captain held that the action of salt water ate away the pulpy part of the rind and left the skin translucent, as required in the better brands of marmelade. The pulp and juice would be thrown away. 'Nonsense,'one of the deck hands argued. 'Everything in that barrel is mixed with sugar and then boiled down to make the bittersweet taste of true Dundee Marmelade. Without the salt water it wouldn't be worth a damn.
Iberia, 1968 James A Michener
Dana Fotera & Graham GreeneMonday, December 11, 2006
I am often asked what person that I have not photographed would I like to, if I had the chance. For many years my answer was always the same, "Graham Greene." After reading my father's copy of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory (William Heinemann Ltd. London) I read every novel, short story, travel essay and movie reviews he ever wrote plus his two-part autobiography. I had hopes that somehow I could swing this until April 3, 1991 when my favourite author, ever, died. I have treasured Paul Theroux's obituary/essay and its magnificently evocative title An Edwardian on the Concorde even after Theroux bitterly cut up his mentor V.S. Naipaul author of that delightful A House For Mr Biswas.
Since 1991 I have discovered the pleasure in taking pictures of people nobody knows who just happen to be very interesting. One such person is Dana (a.k.a. Dana Fotera) who is a 26 year-old Madrid photographer/model. When she is not teaching kindergarten she specializes in documenting young female gymnasts. But it's her more unusual interests that interest me. She has this obsession of being photographed in the most beautiful locations in Spain by the best best Spanish photographers (above right by Jesus Cabrera). She does this without a stitch of clothing. The other talent is that she is a far better (than all those Spaniards) photographer of herself (much like Bunny Yeager) and her self-portraits are breathtaking. A few days after Christmas 2003, we became friends when we both contributed to a Spanish photography on line forum. Ever since she often sends me pictures and we exchange comments on the ones I send her.
On January 27, 2005 Dana had a heart seizure and was taken to hospital where she almost died. The doctors advised that a pacemaker be implanted. Dana almost died again on the operating table, before the knife even nicked her, by her body's ill reaction to the anesthesia. She made the decision to take her chances as is. It was about that time that she finally was able to leave home. I never understood how she was ever able to explain to her conservative and Catholic mother of her mysterious week-end trips to other cities of Spain to visit friends. Nor I was ever able to figure out how she could share her father's computer without him seeing her photographs. She now lives with acomplished photographer Teco ( Pablo Salto-Weis, photo, above left) and they shoot together. But I must again stress that the best of the photographs of this athletically built young woman, who has millions of freckles and the greenest of green eyes, renders herself best (self-portrait below). I argue (we seemed to have reached an impasse on this) that too many of her Spanish photographers treat her as a body in landscape and use flat lighting. I would like to see more dramatic lighting which just might reveal more of her obsession and her delight in being alive.
I have a new post-Graham Greene frustration. Will I ever get to Madrid and be able to see if I can outdo Dana at her own game? Perhaps if I can find as good a Rocinante as Greene's Monsignor Quixote to get me there.
An Edwardian On The Concorde
April 21, 1991
An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him
By PAUL THEROUX
I'm afraid that at the moment my health is pretty lousy," Graham Greene wrote to me not long ago from his hospital bed in Vevey, Switzerland. "I am not supposed to drink at all which is painful and my days seem taken up with blood transfusions, vitamin injections and four different kinds of pill. I suppose one could expect worse at my age."
True -- he was 86 years old when he died on April 3. But even reading that dire description I felt Greene was still indestructible, and I did not seriously fear for his life. He was unlike any other writer I have known in his being physically fit without effort. When anyone asked him how he managed to stay in such good health, he said that he ate and drank whatever he liked, and he boasted (to Fidel Castro, among others) that he never exercised. In fact, he was an energetic walker his whole life, but he loathed fresh-air fiends and he was rather stuck on the idea of being dissolute. "I'm in the mood for a pipe," he sometimes said after a good lunch; he meant opium.
Meeting him, you had the idea that Greene was someone who had had everything he had ever desired, and that it was perhaps this abundance that made him romanticize loss and failure. The idea of noble ruin appealed greatly to him, I think, because it implied struggle. He often spoke of his writer's block, and yet he was immensely productive. And nearly all his 54 books are now in print. But he did not want anyone to think his achievement had been easy for him. I am quite sure he did not care about not winning the Nobel Prize. He was much more famous for not having won it. It was a magnificent annual failure, as the committee overlooked him year after year. But since the prize is awarded on what the English call the theory of Buggin's Turn ("Isn't it time for an Albanian?"), what is it actually worth?
The first impression you had of Greene was almost heroic, a man overwhelmingly tall, staring with a kind of imperious boredom straight over your head. But who had actually laid eyes on him? He was a conspicuous absentee, like Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa ("My cousin," he said, and it was true; Christopher Isherwood was another cousin). He liked to be in Nicaragua or India when any of his books appeared. He hated television, loathed guest appearances and never promoted his books. He disliked celebrity but I think he rather fancied being outrageous, even notorious. Any literary interview with him was done on his terms -- and he deliberately made himself a bit mysterious.
"He's very, um," and then John le Carre searched for a suitable word -- we were preparing a program to discuss the great man's work -- " slippery , isn't he?" Bruce Chatwin, who had been eager to meet him, confessed to being frankly disappointed, and implied that Greene at a lecture a few years ago (he hated public speaking) had been vacant and teasing.
He was larger than life in a specific sense: 6 foot 3, the handsome, even dashing young adventurer having become distinguished and statesmanly. As for his eyes -- they were in a class with those of the celebrated theosophist Madame Blavatsky -- there is no paler or more penetrating gaze in literature. They were almost unbelievably intimidating, and it is hard to imagine anyone lying at those eyes. His brothers Raymond and Hugh were also tall and equally robust (Hugh was a bureaucrat, Raymond an endocrinologist and a mountaineer who had known Aleister Crowley, the diabolist), but they did not have the eyes.
Photographs of Greene show a severe face, befitting a Companion of Honor, but those who could call him a friend knew his solemnity was a mask. He laughed often, and his laugh was deep and appreciative. He was an unusually good raconteur and had a fund of stories, mostly traveler's tales, that had never found their way into print. One great one, about multiple murders, had as its refrain, "And I was told, nothing happens in Cordoba."
He had a comic side that was so profound it verged on sadness (comedy is very near to tragedy, he often said) and touched mania. In his autobiography, he was frank about the mania; he went further and described how he was a manic-depressive, his bipolar nature having been responsible for novels as diverse as "Travels With My Aunt" and "The Heart of the Matter," giddiness on the one hand, gloom on the other. I think his comic vein deepened as he grew older.
His biographer Norman Sherry made much of the fact that Greene sought psychoanalysis, as though he feared for his sanity. I am sure he was as much an observer on that couch as he was a patient. He was a man who seldom wasted an experience (although he went to Samoa and Tahiti and never wrote about it). He did not regard madness as a weakness or a moral fault; it was another way of seeing the world, another form of inspiration. "Much madness is divinest sense" -- that sort of thing. He was also a tremendous quoter of poetry stanzas -- Browning, Kipling and his favorite, the Earl of Rochester.
I think his conversion to Roman Catholicism was an act of rebellion -- against a family (and a country) that saw Catholics as exotic and suspect and sinister. It also gave him a sense of sin, so his villains are not simply wrong -- they are wicked and evil. This theological side of his work I find the least interesting, the most schematic. As a convert he wears his theology heavily -- I think it is often a millstone in his novels -- yet there is no question that in the English novel of his time it set him apart.
He liked thinking that he lived (to use one of his favorite lines from Browning) "on the dangerous edge of things" -- politically, morally, emotionally. But did he? It always seemed to me that Greene was rather safe, and that all this business of his being furtive, the tedious spy side of his personality, opium-eater and ponderer of damnation, was rather a pose. Perhaps he really did play Russian roulette as a young man (he gave several different versions of the story), but if so, he got a hell of a lot of mileage out of it. Dicing with death -- I do believe it was as corny as that -- is much more romantic, and it gives a biographer something to puzzle over, but isn't playing shoot-yourself-in-the-head games also very silly?
In his outlook and in his manners, in the way he ran his literary life, in his lingo and in his pleasures (he seems to have had quite an active libido), Greene was an Edwardian. He was an impressionable 10-year-old when World War I began. Most of his literary heroes were still alive when he began to read them -- Conrad, Saki, Ford Madox Ford; he was precocious enough to have ventured upon Henry James before the master died in 1916. But this man-of-letters sensibility was combined with an extraordinary zest for life -- he was an Edwardian who was perfectly happy flying to Paris or New York on the Concorde (which he did several times).
I avoided reading him for some years, because in our early married life my wife had a great fondness for his work and knew it well. She urged me to read him. I resisted. I was envious. I irrationally demanded her attention; what about my writing? This was in Africa. Eventually I read him. I began to inhabit his world, and I saw hope for myself. In that way he inspired me and gave me heart.
I was asked to interview him once in the 1970's. We met at the Ritz in London and drank. I saw him several more times. Then I realized that it was an impossible task, and that to write about him in the way of an assignment I would be taking advantage of his generosity, invading his privacy and letting the world in. And in doing so, I would lose his trust. I wanted to go on being his friend, so I turned him into a fictional character and put him in my novel "Picture Palace." He laughed about it and we remained friends.
But I think he liked putting on his mask and being a fictional character. Just the other day I read "The End of the Affair," and (his sense of place is so precise, he is so appreciative) I began to miss South London and to wonder, in a premonition of his death, what the world would be like without his gaze upon it. Temperamentally, he was much like the central character, Bendrix -- a lonely man, capable of great sympathy but with a sliver of ice in his heart. I feel lucky to have been his friend, but I doubt that I knew him -- I don't think anyone really did.
Lauren, Rebecca & The Railway ChildrenSunday, December 10, 2006
Yesterday was the perfect day with my two granddaughters.
Rosemary, Lauren and I watched Rebecca in her jazz class at the Arts Umbrella on Granville Island. At the end of the year parents are invited to watch. While instructor Edmund Kilpatrick is gentle and never raises his voice, I now understand why after 90 minutes of that class Rebecca rarely wants to do much when she comes home. She gets a workout. Lauren went to a "princess tea party". She looked specially nice and a lot like her mother Hilary because of the new haircut she got with her Nana ( her other grandmother).
The best part of the day was going to Videomatica to select our Saturday afternoon movie. I chose Lionel Jeffries's 1970 The Railway Children with Jenny Agutter. I have always loved this film and I first saw it with Rebecca and Lauren's mother Hilary and sister Ale many years ago. The film today was better than I remembered. What is remarkable is that there is no evil or evil persons to be seen (one is vaguely mentioned). The movie was too complicated for Lauren, who arrived all dressed up from her tea party. But it was just right for Rebecca who noticed that Jenny Agutter wears two kinds of sailor dresses during her performance. She agrees with me that all girls (and perhaps little boys) should wear some sort of sailor dress/suit at least once in their life. In the photo above it is the last time Rebecca wore her Mexican-bought sailor dress. It is now too small but Lauren, will wear it one day. By the time she does I am sure we will all enjoy The Railway Children all over again.
It is difficult for me to believe that Miss Jenny Agutter (as she is listed in The Railway Children) is now 54.
Cheering Up For Christmas With Bill ReiterSaturday, December 09, 2006
While I have been in Vancouver for 32 years I have never been able to adapt to the shortening of days in November and December. By 7:30 last night I was overcome by sleep while reading a book. Luckily the late November depression begins to be relieved in December by thougths of Christmas and the bright Christmas lights. When December 21 comes around, I forget completely about it being the shortest day of the year. Part of my Christmas cheer comes from remembering the funiest Vancouverite and the funniest radio program I ever heard.
That was CBC's Doctor Bundolo's Pandemonium Medicine Show. And the funniest character of the show was Bill Reiter. I would venture to say that even now (although many people would not know this) Bill Reiter's voice is the most recognizeable voice of British Columbia. His voice is heard in countless voice-overs and commercials.
A Christmas Story - A First Time, AgainFriday, December 08, 2006
Listening to a relatively obscureBeethoven bagatelle on the radio some years ago while driving made me stop the car and I had to park it. I had never heard it before. It was exquisite. I found the need to call someone who understood. I called my VSO pianist friend Linda Lee Thomas. Her husband, Vancouver Chamber Orchestra director, John Washburn (below left, Linda Lee right) answered the phone. So I told him of my sonic "on my way to Damascus" adventure. He commented:
"Ah, Alex, I envy you for being able to listen to something for the first time."
What he said really did not hit home until my attendance this Wednesday with my granddaughter Rebecca (9) of the Arts Club Theatre Company's presentation of A Christmas Story.
My connection with the Arts Club began around 28 years ago when Vancouver Magazine editor Malcolm Parry told me, "We are working on a story on the movers and the shakers of culture in Vancouver. Go and photograph the venues and the players." Linda Lee Thomas and John Washburn were a couple of them. Another player was a new man in town who had a vision of starting a new theatre on Granville Island that would replace the aging converted gospel hall at Seymour and Davie. That's how I met Bill Millerd (the current Artistic Managing Director) and photographed him (above, left) in front of the soon-to-be-converted building that was to become the Granville Island Stage of the company.
In July 2002 I photographed director Katrina Dunn (top, right) at the Bard on the Beach. Perhaps the little smile of the picture was a hint then, that she could not only direct a Shakespeare play but also direct to please children.
Rebecca (below) went to her first opera, Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea, when she was 5, but somehow I never managed to take her to a play until this Wednesday. It was the right play. Her smiles, her giggles, her laughs made me experience going to the theatre for the first time.
Perhaps I could teach John Washburn a few things about listening or seeing something for the first time, through the eyes of a child.
A Christmas Story
She WroteThursday, December 07, 2006
Posing For Alex
When I learned of the opportunity to pose nude for a joint photo/writing project with Alex, the first thing that came to mind were black-and-white images of beautiful women a former boyfriend had taken. A talented photographer outside his day job, he chose nude women as his preferred subject matter. His shots, some of which hung on his living-room walls, were erotic not pornographic, tasteful not tacky.They also made me crumple.
Instead of seeing pieces of art, I saw women far more appealing–far more lovely and gorgeous and smooth and delicate–than I would ever be. He never compared me to the women who modelled for him, but I did. “I’ll never look like that,” I thought. I turned those images into direct comments on my own body. I would obsess on my small-ish breasts and a less-than-smooth butt. I allowed his photos to make me feel inferior, inadequate, sometimes ugly. Once or twice the photos reduced me to tears.
So the prospect of putting myself in front of another photographer’s camera, unclothed, was daunting. If I was so aware of my self-perceived flaws in front of the mirror, surely they would be the first thing I’d notice in stark black-and-white prints. In revealing my imperfect body to this artist–also male–I would be unveiling not only my physical imperfections but also my emotional vulnerability. Alex left the choice up to me. He never tried to persuade me to do something I didn’t want to do. It helped that he is a professional with a solid track record–he’s photographed Evelyn Hart and has had his work in publications like Readers’ Digest. I knew I could trust him–and ultimately, that trust made our time together work.
I knew he had no ulterior motives or inappropriate goals. I knew he wasn’t some dirty old man looking for an excuse to see some flesh, or worse, to try and get me in bed. He wasn’t out to create soft porn. I wouldn’t have said Yes if I felt the least bit wary of his intentions, and I’d never put myself in a similar position, so to speak, with someone who I felt lacked professionalism, skill, and integrity. The project depended as much on his technical ability as his interpersonal skills. And given his breadth of experience, I knew he would find a way to make me feel as comfortable as possible. We had a purpose, and we had to work as a team.
So as much as the session was a challenge, it was also an opportunity. It was a chance for me to face my fears. And it was a chance for me to say to someone–and to myself–this is the real me. It was a very real test to see if I could put my insecurities to rest.
As a rookie “model”, I didn’t know exactly what to expect or how to prepare. I had envisioned Alex’s studio as a small, semi-swank joint given its Robson Street address instead of the sparse grey room with a faux brick fireplace in a creaky old building. Two of his portraits hung on one wall. Perhaps the room’s unpretentious ambiance helped create a relaxed mood. It also helped that we chatted about that day’s peace march and weather before determining, together, where to start. We picked a theme: a dancer portrayed in “undancerly” poses. We flipped through a book of Edgar Dégas paintings to generate ideas but not to pick a pose to re-create. We began with me in my favourite pair of jeans. It wasn’t so bad to stand in front of a single light and a camera without a shirt on– if I was going to spend an afternoon in the buff I might as well lose any sense of discomfort or embarrassment from the top. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel any apprehension. That said, the situation never felt horribly awkward. Alex was encouraging when it came to coming up with specific poses without being condescending or overbearing. We seemed to have a mutually respectful rapport that included rational, intelligent dialogue.
Once we’d decided on a pose, Alex would set up the shot and take a Polaroid before using “real” film to make sure the image was one we were both happy with. Having a good idea of what the final product would look like was incredibly helpful; I didn’t have to worry that the results would be horrible. And Alex had assured me that if he couldn’t make a pose look good, we wouldn’t do it.
My voice of insecurity whispered a bit louder when it came time to strip to the raw. We joked a bit about this being the “embarrassing” part. For about half a minute I did feel embarrassed about standing fully naked in front of Alex. Still, his easy, professional manner put me at ease. And I think he was probably more embarrassed to learn that I’m an advocate of Brazilian waxing–than I was to show him my bare bum.
I had long wondered whether such a situation would be erotic for either the artist or the subject. I can’t speak for Alex, but for me, although the experience can be a sensuous one in fantasy, it wasn’t in real life. Maybe I was too consumed with trying to do a good job. However, for a few brief instances, like when I was lying on a silk sheet, I felt like the one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.
There were niggly things about the session, like me being too hot then too cold. We didn’t play any music because it was more of a distraction than anything. One thing I hadn’t anticipated was fatigue. We spent nearly five hours together. I didn’t think about the experience actually involving some “work” on my part. But posing took concentration and patience and creativity and openness; about three-quarters of the way through I started to run out of steam. I imagine that Alex felt the same way.
In retrospect, I wish I had been more bold or inventive with poses, but at the time my level of confidence would only go so far. The fact that I was able to pull it off–no pun intended–was an enormous accomplishment.
I took six Polaroid images with me after we were done. In two, the first thing I notice are what I perceive as flaws. In four, I think I look pretty good. Some day I might even think I look hot.
I’m grateful I had a chance to work with a photographer I respect and whose work I admire. In that regard, the session was an honour. I’m also thankful I’ll have lasting images of me at this stage of my life. When I’m 90 and wishing I could still dance, I’ll have these reminders of the way my body used to be, the way I used to look. I’m sure then I’ll think how ridiculous it was for me to feel anything but radiant.
Like any experience, fine details fade away. But what lingers after this session with Alex are two qualities that seep into other areas of life: how important trust is in a personal relationship, and how crucial self-love is to begin with.
The Tension is There
It was a combination of the anticipation of a sexual interaction with someone unknown and what I was going to do with her that had me not sleeping nights waiting for my 4 pm, January 18, 2003 appointment with Joanne Chabot.
Joanne is a 33-year-old writer with a ballet background. I know her professionally. She was coming to my studio to pose nude for my camera. I have photographed many women and quite a few men in the nude. But still each one provides me with pleasure, surprise, and excitement– similar to the feeling of anticipating one of my photographs on the cover of a magazine. Even after a few hundred covers the thrill is always there.
Just like at one time people said they bought Playboy to read the articles, there are photographers who say they like to shoot nudes because they like the simple and compound curves of the human body. They say the body can be abstract or can resemble a sand dune. They may be right but I would point out that ostriches and skunks are also made up of curves... And sand dunes don’t charge by the hour.
I like to shoot nudes because I am attracted to the human body. It’s a myth that there is no sexual interplay in figure photography. There is. And it is because of this sexual conflict that the photographer must practice special care.
Elliott Erwitt, on a Life Magazine assignment to photograph an open-heart operation, decided to watch a day before the shoot. As soon as the patient was opened up Erwitt promptly fainted. The surgeon had second thoughts in allowing Erwitt back but Erwitt asserted, “I’ll be fine tomorrow, my camera will be my barrier.” And so it was.
And so it is with nude photography. If your subjects trust you, like patients with their doctor, they’ll allow you to peek into their soul. Through mutual trust you can sometimes reveal the subject’s most intimate emotions. This professional relationship can be fragile when your subject is nude.
The best piece of advice I ever got on the subject was, “ If you don’t plan to take photographs, don’t take your camera.” There seems to be a long running cliché that photographers do it more often. Could it be that there is the pressure to overtly make a pass at the model in an intimate photo session? The idea that women are turned on by photographers was popularized in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow Up. Verushka, the super model of her time, seemed to achieve sexual climax at the feet of camera toting David Hemmings on his studio floor. I can feel sexual tension when I photograph my nude subjects. I think this tension helps in the taking of the photographs. I allow it to remain. Touch could make it crumble.
I told Joanne to change in a special cubicle I have in my studio just for that. The idea of telling an almost complete stranger to strip in front of the camera is not only difficult for the subject but for me the photographer, too. Since I was formed firmly in the 20th century I do not have the carefree approach to nudity that the younger Joanne seemed to have. She removed her clothes in my presence, and I chose to do the gentlemanly thing and I turned around.
There are some who believe that with a model in front of your camera all you need do is click the shutter and the model will do the rest. This rarely happens but if you watch your models during rest periods they invariably strike a good pose. I like to pre-conceive my photographs and I use a couple of tricks that have served me well. One of them involves the idea of the narrative. Can I take 5 pictures that will tell a story when placed in a row? I think of an introduction shot, a strong central shot, a fun shot picture that may run after the first shot and at the end (a profile) looking at the previous 4 pictures. I always pick a theme and work around it. I knew Joanne was a dancer and as such I could feature her graceful hands.
Usually I don’t experiment with new techniques, new film combinations, or use tricky lighting with a model I have not photographed before. For the first session I keep it simple. I like to use one soft light. By using a reflector or moving my subject close to a white wall or away I can control contrast. I will take with a main camera loaded with normal B+W film, and load a 35mm camera with B+W infrared to supplement the pictures, because I like what that film does to skin. I don’t believe that bad photographs can be fixed later. They have to be near perfect from the beginning. If you cannot correct the problem it is best not to shoot it.
Sometimes the reason for not shooting is more than just technical. In 1990 I faced noted writer George Plimpton. I was awed. Plimpton shared a story with me that broke the ice. “Years ago when Muhammad Ali was known as Cassius Clay, the boxer lay defeated in his dressing room after having been out punched by Frazier. Photographer Norm Parkinson and I were covering the event for Life. Norm raised his Nikon to his eye and what he saw was defeat. It almost looked like the corpse of Che Guevara on the marble slab of that Bolivian morgue. He lowered his camera and looking at me he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ And he didn’t.”
I always have Plimpton’s story in my mind. The photographer has to respect his subject, particularly one who may be in a vulnerable position. Being nude in front of a camera surely is. For some models certain parts of the body are okay to be photographed, others are not. If I disagree I sometimes will take a Polaroid (which as a record can be destroyed) and sometimes my model will come around. But if they are adamant I must respect the choice and refrain from shooting. The camera is a barrier but it shouldn’t be so opaque as to prevent us from seeing and thinking of what we are doing.
Ray Smith & Adam Zimmerman - Two Gentlemen Forestry BaronsWednesday, December 06, 2006
A couple of years before my Vancouver photographer friend Fred Schiffer died in 1999 we had a project going. It had all started when we were looking at picture books of Vancouver architecture. One of them was the book Bridges of Light, Cyril E. Leonoff's book on Vancouver architecture photographer Otto Landauer.When he looked at all the famous Vancouver landmark buildings he said to me in his perfect Argentine Spanish, "Otto photographed the buildings and I photographed the architects and the men that put the money to build them." We started comparing notes and we realized that both of us had photographed the same architects and CEOs but at different times. He did most in the 60s and 70s and I began in the 89s. Fred Schiffer had pictures of architect Arthur Erickson where he looked like a dashing matinee idol. With Fred's death our show never happened.
With the advent of the digital camera and the postage stam sized web page photos of executives, the "executive" portrait has gone in decline as quickly as the fortunes of the photographers whose mainstay were annual reports. I did my share in my time and a company I remember fondly is Macmillan Bloedel. It was their advertising and marketing chief T. J. McDowell who gave me my first commercial job in 1977. With more recent revelations on how this company did indiscriminate clear cutting of BC forests all I can say is that my rosy memory has all to do with two men who ran the company for almost 10 years. One of them was the urbane CEO of Noranda, Adam Zimmerman and the other was the tall and large handed Ray Smith who never seemed to know what to do with them.
I genuinely liked them both as I got to photograph them every year for almost 10 years. In one occasion they entered the board room (which had a prominent painting of the founder of the company, H.R. Macmillan). Both had cigars. I looked at them and I said, "Gentleman, you both have very good taste as those are Montecristo Claros."
They looked at me in surprise and smiled. I had Ray sit on the boardroom table and I placed an ashtray behind him so that both could use it. They were so happy that they did not have to abandon their cigars, that they gave me full cooperation. I would take a couple of photographs. Then they would puff on their cigars. We did this for some time as I took 20 exposures.
Boot Camp Instincts - Molly Parker & Lynne StopkewichTuesday, December 05, 2006
Every month, sometimes every couple of weeks, I take the best photograph of my life. We photographers share a situation with 19th century American gunslingers. If our shot isn’t good enough we are dead. If we rest in our laurels boot hill awaits.
Every moment, every exposure in photography, precedes intense training. Boot camp teaches soldiers to forget their instinct for self-preservation. When they are ordered to advance into enemy gunfire they do not flinch. Photographic basic training helped me on September 24, 2000. I took a picture I have never topped.
We are born, we grow, mature, age and we die. Life holds us to that inescapable pattern unless we die young. An inescapable pattern haunts photographers, too.
In I962 I was 20 and living in Mexico City. A German friend and I would go on shooting sprees. We loaded our Pentaxes, Pentacons and Edixas with Tri-X or Agfa Isopan Record, a film that could be pushed to 1200. We eschewed filters since we did not believe in modifying what we saw. We were too young and ignorant to know of the blue sensitivity of b+w panchromatic film. We photographed native Mexican women in markets with their piles of exquisitely ordered oranges and Mexicans looking out of windows or standing in doorways. We photographed beggars and dirty children.
We thought all this was avant-garde. The use of flash (which we couldn’t afford) modified existing light and was anathema to our authenticity code. We never shot posed portraits because that was unnatural. Our people shots were exposed on the sly.
Since then I have used slide film, negative film, I have put photographic paper and Cybachrome as film in my cameras. I have used a 4x5 camera, swivel lens panoramic cameras in several formats, pinhole cameras, cheap cameras, and box cameras. I have placed my face on my Epson scanner. I use studio flash as a hard light with a ring flash with optical or Fresnel lens spotlights and as indirect with umbrellas and soft boxes. I have opened Kodak B+W Infrared 35mm film canisters in daylight and suffered the consequences. I have incorrectly loaded film more times than I care to admit into my Pentaxes and Nikons so that it won’t advance. Years ago I cross processed E-4 and used Dektol straight on Tri-X at 4000 ISO. I remember my first nude.
My Mexico City youth came to haunt me. Before Saturday Night died (yet one more time), I battled with young female photo editors who wanted me to shoot ”loose from the hip.” I was to be, “a fly on the wall” and ordered not to light or use a stylist. They wanted the pictures to be “edgy” and high contrast. Had I taken them with my long lost Edixa and Isopan Record, overexposed it (I used to guess my exposures) and printed on Agfa Brovira Number 5, the paper of my youth, I would have made friends and perhaps more money.
I believe that every photographer has to repeat this pattern in some way until technique is no longer a primary concern. It’s there like basic training ready to kick in when needed. I must not criticize sunset photographs or cat photographs because I may have done them in my past. If shooting a nude as a landscape is how we all begin (and as I began), I cannot expect a young photographer to skip that stage. We all have to shoot that pyramid of oranges on the market square.
When film director Lynne Stopkewich and actor Molly Parker walked into my studio on September 24, 2000 I had only one mission and that was to explain with one photograph my suspicion that a special bond existed between them. This bond had allowed them to make Kissed and the then yet-to-be released Suspicious River. Both films conveyed to me an almost alien point of view. I realized that this disturbing yet refreshing feeling was that both films were made with a woman’s point of view. I had been disappointed in the past by the films of American director Katheryn Bigelow as well as those by Nora Ephron. Molly Parker’s performance in Suspicious River is so astounding that I wanted to show in a photograph the invisible bond that must exist between the two women.
I exposed several Polaroids. None worked. During a rest period I watched them and then I saw it. I took a Polaroid. I showed it to them and they nodded. We took a few photographs and quit.
It’s not important what kind of camera, film, or technique I used. What is important is that when I saw my shot, technique was far in the background and I had only to follow my boot camp instincts and press the shutter. Those young Saturday Night photo editors may have been trying to tell me something. Just like soldiers and officers must invariably return to practice their basic training with regularity we photographers must go back to our roots and just shoot, technique be damned.
Sherlock Holmes, Dylan Pflug & The Story Of The Dancing MenMonday, December 04, 2006
I look forward to the day that I can watch Beau Geste (with Gary Cooper) at home with Rebecca. At 9 she may not be ready for the complex plot of this film that I saw at about that age in Buenos Aires. The scene with all the dead legionaires propped up behind the parapets to defend Fort Zinderneuf left me with a shock of memory I will never forget.
So for our Saturday evening home viewing with Rebecca I chose Barry Levinson's 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes better named in Britain as Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear. With its Lucas Films special effects it was a perfect film for Rebecca who was rivited to the screen throughout. Even Rebecca noted that the film had similarities between the characters, setting, events and tone of Young Sherlock Holmes, and those of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps it can be explained that the first two Harry Potter films were directed by Chris Columbus who wrote the screenplay for Young Sherlock Holmes.
The film "explains" several peculiarities of Conan Doyle's grown up Sherlock.
1. Holmes has started learning to play the violin during the opening scenes (frustrated he has not mastered the instrument after 3 days of practice)
2. The scar on his cheek is acquired during a fencing match with the fencing teacher and villain Rathe.
3. His deerstalker cap, belonging to his mentor Waxflatter, is given to him after Waxflatter's death.
4. His pipe is originally bought by Watson to allow them to question an antique shop dealer; in the conclusion, Watson presents it to Holmes as a parting gift.
His jacket originally belonged to Rathe, and is also his first trophy.
And of course the death of Elizabeth (the film's fetching young heroine) at the end of the film tries to explain Sherlock Holmes's ambivalent relationship with women.
Yesterday I thought more about Sherlock Holmes and remembered dancer Daylan Pflug. I had photographed her in 2000 for the Straight. She had an odd tattoo on her ankles. They were primitive stick men.
At the time I connected her stick men with the stick men of the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men.
Guns - Tom Bongalis, Billy Miner & A Bisley Model 41 ColtSunday, December 03, 2006
For years I have bragged that I never wanted to own a gun, a motorcycle or grow a mustache or a beard. Until I started gardening in the late 80s I was very proud of my smooth and pristine "gentleman's" hands. In short I have never been into manly symbols. But it wasn't always so.
I was born in 1942 and by September 1948 there is this photograph of me holding a gun. On September 1952, on my grandmother's birthday (she is sitting between blond me and my first cousin Wenceslao de Irureta Goyena) we are holding guns. I am holding two guns.
The man behind is Uncle Tony de Irureta Goyena, Wencesalao's father. In those years he would take us hunting in the jungles of the Argentine province of Corrientes. With his 22 caliber rifle he would shoot down hundreds of green parrots that he said were a menace to our aunt's crops. To this day I remember almost not being able to see the sky because of the density of the trees and the thousands of parrots that squacked loudly, and more so, after each gun blast. I was 9 and not really yet aware of what my uncle was doing. By the time I was 20 I knew that with my quick temper it would a very bad idea to have a gun in the house. My fascination with guns became a standofish literary one.
In the 80s in Vancouver I seemed to need guns as props often. My gun provider was North Van gun collector Tom Bongalis. He seemed to understand my attraction but repulsion to guns so he never ever charged me for any of the rentals and he trusted me with valuable guns. In the late 80s I photographed him in one of his gun rooms. He had built his house with this gun collection in mind. The basement was reinforced concrete, and the entrance to this gun collection was via an antique, all-steel bank vault door. Here he is in his gun room. The Colt was train robber Billy Miner's gun.
Sometime in the mid 90s Bongalis died. I wonder who now has what was then the best private gun collection in Canada.
Addendum October 10. 2007
name: Jason Bongalis
I'm writing to you to answer a question you posed
on your site. My name is Jason Bongalis, grandson
of your former gun dealer Tom Bongalis. I was
searching for some info on my grandfather and
found him on your site. As you describe him is just
as he was. Unfortunately after Tom passed the
buisness had to be shut down, and the entire
collection of guns and antiques were broken up and
auctioned off individualy. I just thought you may
want an answer to your question. I enjoyed the peice
you wrote on him, I always enjoy hearing stories of
who he was and what he did. Anyways just a quick
Janice CarpenterSaturday, December 02, 2006
Janice Carpenter is one of the most exquisitely beautiful women I have ever photographed. I first saw her in 1993 at the Vancouver office of the CNIB where I was working on a fund raising brochure. She had her trademark finger-waved hair. To her I was a blur as by then she was clinically blind. In 1990 Carpenter (31)was a young producer for a hot CBC show called Pilot 1. Soon after she was diagnosed with MS and in short order lost her job and her ad agency exec husband. I was so intrigued by her that I asked to photograph her at her home. I think that this photograph of her in her wheelchair which I took in her bedroom is my favourite and one of the most erotic I have ever taken.
We became friends and I began to understand how terrible MS is. Somehow being able to take Interferon did not help her becuse her MS was too advanced for any kind of relief.
Every once in a while she will call me up with advice on how I could improve my photographic business. Two years ago her parents came for a visit and I photographed them together. I also took this profile.
CNIB Fund Raising Brochure
Caitlin & Phoebe MacRae - Alto & SopranoFriday, December 01, 2006
If I had to pick one piece of music that would serve me well in keeping my spirits up during the bouts of depression that hit me on these longest days of the year, I would pick one of Vivaldi's two Glorias. My favourite is his Gloria RV 589 in D major and I like it played and sung very fast.
I heard an unusually fast version, the more unusual in that the singers were all women in 1992. It was a concert held at Ryarson church. The orchestra was the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the choir was the Elektra Women's Choir. I had always loved the parts for two trumpets. It was during this concert that I caught on that there was only one trumpet part. The other "trumpet" was the baroque oboe of Sand Dalton. Since that concert I have heard Dalton play many times. Only a week ago he played not only his oboe but a transverse flute with the PBO. He makes the instruments he plays.
In this concert of Vivaldi's Gloria I first heard and fell in love with Marc Destrubé's Pacific Baroque Orchestra. And it was also here that I first heard that pair of readhead sisters, Caitlin and Phoebe McRae. They sort of competed in the alto and soprano solo parts of the Gloria. I have since heard Caitlin (standing in photo, left) sing with Musica Intima and Phoebe (sitting) has sung in many baroque concerts. I love them and I am delighted by their sense of humour and poise. Here they are about to crack some croquet balls in my garden.
Phoebe McRae and Elektra Women's Choir
Pacific Baroque Orchestra