The Scourge of God and Blue Mouse EarsWednesday, February 28, 2007
There is a curious resurgence of my memory for botanical Greek and Latin that happens every year about know. As I sense spring in the air, in spite of last night's snow fall, my memory for the names of plants comes eking back. Andre is fixing the white picket fence that went down with the November storm. He is Bosnian but must have the blood of Attila in him. My plants have confided in me that Andre does not need a horse to be The Scourge of God. His boots are enough. I hope my hostas are still asleep and out of the way of Andre's boots. The promise of beauty is in the air and my memory of the unexpected detail of unopened hosta flowers comes to mind. This one, Hosta 'Green Fountain' reminds me of Star Treck's Birds of Prey. I must remember to order Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears' for Rebecca from Thimble Farms on Saltspring Island.
Resolving BananasTuesday, February 27, 2007
My Argentine painter friend Juan Manuel Sanchez approaches everything he does as a problem with a solution. The moment he marks a sheet of paper or a canvas he initiates that problem. Then he must "resolver" it. I have learned much from him by just thinking this way. As evidence I have two recent photographs that I took to illustrate articles in the Georgia Straight. One, because it is in colour, only appeared as seen here on the web version.
Marcus Youssef adapted Naguib Mahfouz's novel Drifting On The Nile to a play. In a first version both he and friend Camyar Chai acted in it. In the recent Vancouver version, Chai directed the play. I wanted to convey the professional intimacy between these two men.
For the Banana Boys a play about the travails of being Asian in Canada I simply scanned a couple of bananas and with Photoshop I aranged them around my photograph.
Alas! Juan Manuel Sanchez is not coming back from Buenos Aires and I will miss his conversation and his instruction on art. I wanted him to teach Rebecca to draw or paint. Perhaps Juan is old fashioned or perhaps he is not, but he flatly refused to teach her anything until she was 11. It would seem that the second best solution will be for me to pass on to her some of what Juan taught me. I am sure that Rebecca will "resolver" it.
Martin Scorsese, A Beard & John HinckleyMonday, February 26, 2007
It is amazing how short a memory we all have for movies and how we forget challenging movies of the past. One of them was Martin Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver. I saw it because I have always been a fan of Cybill Shepperd. But the film brought shocks I wasn't prepared for. Taxi Driver (and many forget) might have influenced John Hinckley in his assasination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
I did not know I was striking a cord when I faced Scorsese with my camera and asked him about Hinckley. His immediate retort was a shocking (for me), "He wrote to me before he did to her (Jody Foster)."
What would have led Martin Scorsese to grow a beard when he came to Vancouver in 1998 to promote his 1998 The Last Temptation of Christ? So here it is, a picture of Scorsese wearing a beard.
Tomorrow YesterdaySunday, February 25, 2007
It is not often that I ever write in my blog the happenings of the pevious. But at Northern Voice yesterday and the day before I was subject to sights and lectures, most of them well over my threshold of understanding, that I have to comment on them. This annual Vancouver based blogging conference is attended by normally unseen and unacknowledged gurus that keep our web pages and blogs from collapsing as photons into the aether. At 64 I may have been part of a handful of older bloggers yet a young one Maikopunk in her blog points out some of the sights that amazed me the most. Lawyer Kevin O'Keefe noticed the strange interaction of the conference. I sat next to a friendly Serbian photographer who could multitask in a way in which I could only stare in awe. While listening to a complicated lecture on identity and security he edited 100 digital pictures (that he had taken minutes before during a conference coffe break), colour corrected them, cropped them and uploaded on to Flickr. Or there is this different link Flickr 2.
There was a constant reference to change, a change that was much faster than most could possibly cope with or understand. There was an emphasis on blogging platforms like DRUPAL and WebPress. Friendly arguments arose on which of these platforms were more user friendly. There was a nuts and bolts lecture on how to become a citizen journalist. I was amazed to find out that an apparently sane woman admitted to having over 400 online identities.
But at the end of the day I was left wondering, as people adopt and adapt all the latest advancements for blogging for the creation of online communities, if the ethical problems that arose were being ignored or simply passed over. I would reject that any online sense of intimace can ever rival a face to face one.
For my talk on why I blog I brought a very large light jet print of Rebecca (seen above). I put it to one side of the also large screen that projected my blog for yesterday that also was illustrated by a photograph of Rebecca. At the end of the talk, nobody came down to investigate the large photograph. One woman asked me, "Why did you bring that photograph, after all you already had one up on the screen?"
Could it be that for some the only reality is the one they see on the laptop screen?
1979 motto of the Vancouver alternative scene rock band The Modernettes.
Get Modern or get fucked.
A year and one month ago I started this blog with complete ignorance on what a blog was. The blog was attached to a simultaneously new web page, both designed by Doug Jasinki and Chris Botting at Skunkworks Creative Group Ltd.. That Doug Jasinski is also a lawyer brought with it some extra advantages in the wording of my profile.
Without knowing that it was a primitive version of a blog/wiki I had been a member some years before of the American Hosta Society Electronic Round Robin. It was the furious flaming in the forum postings that convinced me that my new blog should be what I call a "one sided" blog.
I was unsure on what the content of my blog was to be until I noticed my attraction to Bill Richardsons's CBC Radio show Bunny Watson. Alas! This radio program has been discontinued, but my memory of the program's quirky bringing together of apparently random facts through association has been my inspiration for my blog since. It is because of my blog's randomness that I have resisted classifying it into categories.
My new blog went along for a few weeks and was somehow noticed by Tim Bray who immediately advised me on two very necessary features. One was the RSS feed and the other the individual address links to every day's postings. I asked Bray what an RSS feed was and he told me, "Don't ask me, just tell your folks to install it." Looking into other blogs also convinced me on a self-imposed structure of:
1. No ranting.
2. No politics.
3. No religion.
4. No reviews of contemporary films.
5. No nude photographs. (I broke this rule once)
6. No blogs related to the day's news events except the deaths of interesting people whose pictures I have in my files.
7. No profanity except as quotes today and here
A large chunk of my blog has to do with my relationship to my granddaughter Rebecca Stewart (now 9). Slowly her sister Lauren (4) is beginning to share blog time.
Rebecca is not the only frequent visitor of my blog. My two daughters have told me that they have been afraid to ask me questions about my past or that there simply never seemed to be the time for them. They enjoy finding about themselves through my recounting of our past as a family.
I have been a freelance writer for 15 years and being able to write for Vancouver publications has all but disappeared. The incresing trend in using handout photographs (the same ones appear in most magazines and newspapers) has been paralleled by one of "modified" press releases made to look editorial. As newpsapers find it hard to increase their ad space there are many cuts in feelance hiring. For a while I was angry and frustrated.
This pent up anger has been released in my blogs on music, theatre and dance. I preview favourite artists and shows. I write what I want in the format that I want. No editor tells me I have to cut my word count. With this pent up anger gone my spirits are up and I can seek work calmly in the difficult market of photography.
My Epson 1640 SU flatbed scanner sits to the left of my monitor. It is a friendly companion that has served me well in my blogging. It has helped me make sense and put an order in my head of my extensive 30 year-old film files. When I don't have a photograph to fit into that day's blog I often find objects in my house that magically come to life when I place them on my scanner.
My wife Rosemary was at first aprehensive on my daily disappeances to sit in front of my computer. But after several valuable sales of my photographs found by search engines in my blog, including a recent one of Jane Jacobs to the Rockefeller Foundation she sees it as almost all good. So do I.
It would seem that my horizons in the blogging world are expanding. It was only yesterday,
at Moosecamp that I discovered a range of stuff I was completely ignorant about. I may not understand it yet, but there it is in my head ready to find future associations. Stuff like Drupel, WordPress and Moo Cards.
Tim Bray - Tim RayFriday, February 23, 2007
I know two men with similar names who are similar in other ways. Both Tim Bray and Tim Ray are soft spoken. Both of them have no compunctions about looking you in the eye. Both are ellusive or at the least mysterious about what they do.
I first met Tim Ray in the late 70s (seen here with friend Brooke). I was taking a series of photographs of musicians in Vancouver who were experimenting with a novel concept. This concept was called live music. Many nightclubs at the time were into disco. Tim Ray's concept was beyond even that. He was one of the leaders of the Vancouver alternative scene who experimented with conceptual music. I knew nothing of this. I took some pleasant photographs and was charmed by Ray's gentle hospitality. A few years later I finally went to the Smiling Buddha to hear him. The poster in front of the joint on West Hastings read, 50% Off! I paid for my entrance and demanded some money back as they were charging me full rate. It was then that I discovered that photographer Lincoln Clarkes had a short lived band by that name and I am one of the few that ever heard Clarkes play the guitar.
Some weeks back a tall and not so young man said hi to me at the DOA concert at Richards on Richards. I told Tim Ray, "I know someone who almost has your name."
I first met Tim Bray in his basement studio in November 1999. The Globe & Mail dispatched me to photograph him. Bray explained to me something that had to do with a computer language called XML. I did not understand but I took a pleasant picture of him with his wife Lauren.
In March 2002 The National Post assigned me to photograph Bray. I photographed him with his trademark hat. The folks at the National Post hated the idea of a portrait of someone into cutting edge computer language looking like an officer of the Confederate States of America and told me they were not going to use the photograph. They didn't.
Some things don't change. I still don't understand or know what these two men do. I believe that Bray may be a member of a new order of 21st century Masons who speak a language alien to most of us. There is no doubt in my mind that if he and his order pulled the plug we would fall into chaos.
Spooning With RosemaryThursday, February 22, 2007
No matter how hard I have tried to increase my English vocabulary there are some words that crop up that for me are completely new. It was only a few weeks ago that I read in Elmore Leonard's Tishomingo Blues (there are vivid descriptions of US Civil War re-enactments) that soldiers spooned when the weather was cold. I had never seen this word before and when I looked it up I was surprised.
Spooning has to be one of the most pleasant features of a long term relationship or, in my case, a 39 year marriage. It is particularly delightful when you consider what Rosemary's legs look like.
I can objectively say that the only person in my family whose legs were as fine as Rosemary's were those of my mother. In the good old days of deplaning on a tarmac we would go to meet my mother at the airport and we always could spot her by seeing her legs from this side of the airplane. My eldest daughter Ale (seen here with Rosemary in the Mexico City shopping mall of Satelite) also has beautifully long legs. In fact all my daughters inherited from both sides of the family and when I watch Rebecca at her ballet I wonder if she will one day dance the tango with a slit skirt the way my mother did.
Tiger Williams, A Bear & Chris DahlWednesday, February 21, 2007
Sometime in 1994 I was dispatched by Equity Magazine to photograph ex Canucks player of note, Tiger Williams for the magazine's sports column. While there I spotted Williams's collection of bear skulls. There was a dramatic cloud formation outside his living room window. I quickly set up my lights to get it. By the time I switched from b+w to colour the sky darkened.
I went back with the pictures and art director Chris Dahl immediately promoted my sports column photograph to the cover. Dahl, the best magazine art director I ever worked with ( I would add to that short list Toronto's Barbara Solowan). Dahl is now the marketing director at West Vancuver's Collingwood School. Should the school decide to publish a school magazine I would not doubt that Dahl would make it our city's most handsome magazine.
Dahl pioneered in Vancouver in the middle 80s the four-colour reproduction of b+w photographs in magazines. He would impart on images, as seen here, a subtle colour cast. I don't know of any magazines or publications in Vancouver, who more than ever have the ability to change anything at the last moment, who would have gone the route that Dahl did here.
Cojones & ButterfliesTuesday, February 20, 2007
On December 22, 1944, German General Heinrich Von Lütwitz demanded that Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe surrender with his US troops in the beleauguered Belgian town of Bastogne. McAullife's reply was terse: "Nuts." German speaking army medic, Ernie Premetz, was dispatched with Colonel Joseph Harper to hand the reply to the German couriers. They did not understand the slang word. Harper told Premetz to indicate that the Germans could take a flying f----Premetz wanted to be clear. He told them, "Du kannst zum Teufel gehen," "You can go to hell!"
I believe that General McAuliffe really meant,"I'll sacrifice my nuts before I surrender to you bastards!"
I have come to understand that in our concept of the brotherhood (or sisterhood) of man (and woman) there seems to be divergence and individuality in the national insult that does not transcend borders. My camera repairman Horst Wenzel, has confirmed that they do not use testicles or any allusions to them when they insult.
After many years of living in Mexico City, in 1965, I was crossing the street in Buenos Aires when a car suddenly turned and almost hit me. I screamed at the driver, "¡Pinche, cabrón!” which in Mexico loosely means something like, “You cuckold and despicable pimp!” The man stared into my face and nothing registered. By the time I rethought it all and yelled a very Argentine, “¡La concha de tu hermana!”(Your sister's cunt) he was long gone.
As a boy in Buenos Aires , my parents would take me to the yearly PNE-type La Rural that featured lots of livestock. I would always stare at the huge Simmental bulls that could barely walk, their huge scrotums dragging on the floor. Perhaps this is why Argentines use boludo (big-balled) to insult you if they think you are mentally slow. If you are even more challenged they switch to the stronger pelotudo (extra-big-balled). In Mexico this does not register as an insult since Mexicans would rather command you into having sexual relations with your mother. The more Roman Catholic Spaniards would rather “defecate” on God ( ¡Me cago en Dios!) than deal with your relatives.
But it is the Spanish (Castilian) expression for testicles, cojones , that has crossed international borders and transferred itself into English so that if you have them ( cojones ) you are perceived as either being macho, gutsy, or brave. Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte has written a treatise on the word. He cites that a preceding number is important. The expression “to be worth one cojón,” means that the project in question could be costly. If someone has two of them he or she is brave. One more or three as in, “I don't care three cojones ,” signifies a low priority.
In 1990 I wanted to travel to Peru to photograph the famous Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa , who was running for president. I was unable to find anyone who was interested in photographs of the man without an accompanying article. It dawned on me that I would have to interview him and to do this I would have to read his books of which many at the time were unavailable in English. In four months I read his whole literary output, including the extremely dense Conversación en la Catedral. One hour before my interview with Llosa at his Miraflores home in Lima , the butterflies in my stomach were the size of the Brazilian tropical variety. I told myself that if I survived the ordeal I would never ever have to worry about anything as being impossible or too difficult.
While I would never claim that I have cojones , I would assert that my testicles crossed some sort of Rubicon on that Lima day in 1990. I am often asked if I was not nervous shooting authors William Safire, the scary William F. Buckley , George Plimpton and the even scarier James Ellroy, in photo above. Was it tough to photograph Annie Leibovitz? I will admit to faint flutterings in my stomach on all of these occasions but nothing in comparison to my Peruvian adventure. The moment any photographic assignment is not accompanied by stress I would think my retirement would be imminent. Whatever it is they are called, we photographers have to have them.
Rosemary - A Botanical MuseMonday, February 19, 2007
On a cold day in late February of 1992 (it wasn't raining as it is today) Rosemary said, "Let's go to VanDusen." I could not understand why she wanted to go. What could there possibly be to see, with no flowers of any kind? I grabbed my Widelux, a Japanese swivel lens panoramic camera, loaded it with Kodak b+w infrared film and followed Rosemary out the door. I took several photographs but it is the nature of infrared film, in complicity with the Widelux, which is a highly unreliable camera, that I had few of the 20 exposures turn out. I printed them in my darkroom and I could not believe their beauty. It was about this time that I discovered what other photographers around the world had noted about Agfa Portriga photographic paper. If the properly washed (to remove all traces of fixer) photographs were placed in a 1 to 3 dilution of selenium toner (served hot) they developed a strangely beautiful split toning. They had a rich magenta/maroon and in some places a cold cyan/gray.
Because of Rosemary I had discovered a new interest in photography that I had ignored for years. I had always been attracted to the portrait and avoided the landscape. Shooting landscapes has helped me get away from possible portrait blocks (portraits are my bread and butter) and made me appreciate plants much in the same way as Rosemary appreciates them.
Last year the Vancouver Urbanarium Society paid me (a first for me!) to have a show at the Pendulum Gallery at the Hong Kong Bank of panoramics done in the style Rosemary had somehow pressed me into back in 1992.
Yesterday the sun came out. It was a bonus day as it was supposed to rain. Rosemary and I worked in the garden cleaning it up in preparation for spring. I have to prepare a lecture for next week at UBC Botanical Garden on plant and garden photography. A radio station is interviewing me tomorrow on the subject.
In this age of specialization, it took Rosemary to teach me that versatility is far more valuable.
The first photograph above is from that first series in 1992. From that angle it was impossible to believe that I could be in the middle of a large city and not be able to see a building, a car or a person! The second picture I took last April at VanDusen. If it looks different it is because this is a straight scan. Alas! Agfa Portriga is no longer made and Agfa declared bankruptcy a few years back. Even if they return I think Portriga is history.
Car School - Part IISunday, February 18, 2007
Last week in Rebecca - Richard Twardzic I mentioned how I got Rebecca started on jazz through Oscar Peterson's piano. The lesson continued with Andre Previn And His Pals Shelly Manne & Red Mitchell - West Side Story (Contemporary OJCCD-422-2). This CD has my favourite ever version of America. Next week we will watch West Side Story, the movie and only after that will I reveal to Rebecca that I have an LP with Oscar Peterson's Trio playing the same music. Rebecca was surprised to find out that Andre Previn and his pals were all white. She is familiar with the music as a couple of months back we listened to the UBC Philharmonic play Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story: Symphonic Dances.
It was in 1962 that I listened to the two jazz albums that finally cemented my interest in jazz for all these years. One was Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba. I remember that I wore the LP out with my heavyish Gerrard turntable's tonearm and that gave me the excuse to upgrade from a mono recording to a stereo one. The other record, because of its variety, would be my desert island record even if I considered Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. The latter, as good as it is, can put me into very long bouts of depression.
The former is Bags Groove - Miles Davis (Prestige-P7109 - OJCCD -245-2)with Sony Rollins, Milt Jackson, Thelonius Monk, Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke. If there is indeed a God and He is indeed in heaven, then the above guys would be playing the banquet music.
Bags' Groove has two takes of one of my favourite jazz standards composed by vibraharpist (in those days it was called a vibraharp and not a vibraphone) Milt Jackson whose nickname was Bags. In both those takes I first discovered the piano of Thelonius Monk. His method struck me as playing the right wrong notes. Sometimes I reversed this into he was playing the wrong right notes. Because of my dyslexia I have always considered Sonny Rollins'Airegin (Nigeria) as the superior dyslexic jazz standard over Duke Ellington's Oclupaca (Acapulco). That Airegin is played by Horace Silver on the piano is a much appreciated bonus.
So it was indeed a pleasure to turn on Sophie's (our family Audi) CD yesterday. Rebecca immediately asked me if it was Milt Jackson on the vibraphone.
We listened to the one take and, after she correctly IDd Thelonius Monk on piano, we skipped to Airegin. By then we had arrived at her sleepover birthday party. Car school was over until the next time.
I think Rebecca is hooked.
Making Waves In My Brain With Standing WaveSaturday, February 17, 2007
Tomorrow at 8:00 PM I will be at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre , 1895 Venables Street, with my friend Graham Walker. We will be there to have our ears cleansed musically and our complacent attitude towards music challenged.
The Vancouver group Standing Wave, AK Coope, clarinet, Rebecca Whitling, violin, Peggy Lee, cello, Allen Stiles, Piano and Vern Griffiths, perscussion, will be launching their new CD REDLINE. Except for AK Coope, a new member of Standing Wave who plays the clarinet I know all in this usual list of musical suspects.
These "suspects" have been providing me with musical pleasure for years and even my granddaughter Rebecca knows some of them.
Peggy Lee (right) explained the configuration of her cello at her home once and then both of us marvelled at Lee's contribution in the little orchestra that accompanied Chick Snipper's surgical dance, Slab. Rebecca first met Vern Griffiths at a concert music for children at the Chan Centre.
Griffiths (left) had all kinds of unlikely toys and instruments that made the noises that accompanied Cam Wilson's (not part of Standing Wave but seen here with Allen Stiles in the centre of the Beatles White Album which was a stellar new music project of some years past) Canadian Carnival of the Animals. But Griffiths's definitive moment for us was his snare drumming up front, with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra behind, performance of Ravel's Bolero.
Unfortunately, Rebecca's exposure to her namesake Rebecca Whitling (top, left) has been limited to seeing her at her post as one of the violinists for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. I have had the pleasure of hearing her play Argentine tango and Chinese new music.
And I could go on in how these pleasantly incestuous and young new music players and composers (Bradshaw Pack, above, right, is one of my favourites and is one of the featured composers for Sunday night) play musical chairs to my delight.
My friend Graham Walker and I go to many baroque concerts. Marc Destrubé the musical director and virtuoso violinist of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra insists on stressing that all baroque music was new music. With no recordings available in the 17th and 18th century, baroque music was seldom played more than once. It was the new music and the avant-garde of its day. They played in royal living rooms and churches and were known by those who listened to them.
For me the spirit of the baroque lives on in these new music programs and concerts with groups such as Standing Wave. Not all of the concert this Sunday night will be pleasantly melodic but with their warmth and their smiles (Bradshaw Pack is not as scary as he looks!) and in the intimate venue of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre these musicians can help us enrich and challenge our musical horizons.
Left (Cam Wilson, left, Allen Stiles, right)
Mayonnaise, The Cucumber & A PhotographFriday, February 16, 2007
Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD, 140mm floating element lens. One 3x4 ft Chimera soft box attached to a Dynalite head. F-11 at 1/30 second with Ektachrome 100G.
Mayonnaise - My Recipe
I put one egg yolk in a bowl. I slowly dribble with a spoon one cup of grape seed oil while beating the mixture with a hand mixer at top speed. Halfway through the oil I empty one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. I put in a pinch of cayenne and teaspoon and a half of Keen's Dry Mustard, a teaspoon of sugar and Maldon sea salt to taste. When the oil is almost all used I put in another tablespoon of lemon juice or (if I feel like it) a tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar. I refrigerate the mayonnaise and use it the same day on cucumber and egg salad sandwiches.
If Publius Cornelius Scipio's Roman army had not defeated Hannibal Barca at the battle of Zama in 202BC perhaps the only Roman word in our language would have been the Roman one for cucumber.
David M - No Fun - Be Like Us at ChaptersThursday, February 15, 2007
Sometime in 1999 a mutual interest in the late French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) took Vancouver author Barbara Hodgson (Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon and me into the magazine stand of the Robson Street Chapters store. We were in search of a magazine dedicated to Teilhard's very hip concept of convergence, described as a " concordant spiritual and physical evolution meeting at a single point."
A Chapters representative looking like a Monty Python version of Prince Valiant instantly produced a copy of Forbes ASAP, with the cover story "Big Issue IV: The Great Convergence."
I knew the Chapters magazine man from an entirely different context.
The evening of August 19, 1985 ruined for me forever that perennial musical thug, Handel's Messiah. A disco version of the Hallelujah Chorus was playing loudly while young men in tight jeans and T-shirts danced and punched the sky. I was at the Luv-A-Fair nightclub (it was demolished last year to make way for a new condo), waiting to hear John Cale play solo piano as well as to witness the launching of Gorgo, "the candy that destroyed London." Gorgo,a fluorescent green chew bar from Scotland, was to be launched by David M, shown here on the left in my 1986 photo, and Paul Leahy, right, a duo from Surrey known as No Fun.
It may be more difficult to succintly summarize No Fun than it is to read and understand Teilhard's Phenomenon of Man. But David M, now 52 and the manager of the Chapter's magazine stand for over 9 years, doesn't think that's a challenge. I asked him for a one-sentence definition.
"Easy - we are the Beatles of Surrey."
While Gorgo is no longer available (my granddaughter Lauren. with David M left and Rebecca, middle, is seen here holding a very rare pack) No Fun still sings its 1975 hit Be Like Us along with songs by legendary Vancouver alternative scene bands of the past.
David M, who says he has a natural knack for magazines, mechanical hockey and finding free (but legal) downtown parking spots will be playing this Saturday, February 17 from 1pm to 3pm in the upper floor of Chapters (Robson and Howe). Since this is the 5th anniversary of his third-Saturday of the month concerts at Chapters the management will be bringing out a cake.
What can you expect this Saturday? Both my granddaughters had a lovely time in the third Saturday of January. We listened to David M sing No Fun songs of old and brand new ones plus really obscure songs by the Beatles, David Bowie and others. The sound volume is just right, the view of Vancouver is beautiful, and the coffee from the Starbucks downstairs is piping hot.
The Primal UrgeWednesday, February 14, 2007
In 1961 I read British science fiction writer Brian Aldiss's satirical novel The Primal Urge in which all human beings get an Emotional Register implanted on their forehead at birth. The Emotional Register had to be a light emitting diode (before they were invented) that glowed when its owner felt sexual attraction to someone (in what I remember of the novel) at a cocktail party, for example. I found the book amusing. The sexually reserved Irish banned it.
My first job in Vancouver, when I arrived in 1975, was washing cars at Tilden-Rent-A-Car on Alberni Street, in front of the Ritz Hotel. Because of my Argentine perspicacity I was quickly promoted to rental counter clerk. On winter Sundays business was non existent. If I tried to read a book the manager made me wash windows. But I was left alone if I sat at my post to daydream. I remember one winter Sunday in February very well. Two cars were illegally parked in front of the hotel and had their four-way flashers going. I noticed that only in short intervals would both cars' lights be in phase. Most of the time they blinked with no apparent congruence. When the lights did coincide, ever so fleetingly, it was wonderful. I remembered The Primal Urge and what it would be like to face some woman at a party and suddenly see her light blinking in unison with my own. Those two cars seemed to parallel humans falling in love.
While I was never exceptional in mathematics I was competent enough to ponder on a formula that would predict when the lights of those cars would coincide. However complex, the formula would surely be simpler that one that would predict when and how two human beings would fall in love.
Until I went to St. Edward's High School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin Texas my love of women was from afar. There was one of the Argentine quintuplets (Maria Fernanda Diligenti) in kindergarten. The only way I could express my affection for her was by hiking up her skirts. It was all one-sided as she never acknowledged my existence. In the 8th grade in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila I fell for Anna Maria Ramos. She was in the 7th grade. But she knew whom she wanted and she had a boyfriend (Romeo!) whom she eventually married. The reason I was shunned by them all is that I had invented the concept of nerdness before it have ever become part of our vocabulary.
It was at St. Ed's where my attraction for a very short, sassy cheerleader (from St. Mary's Academy on the other side of Austin) finally forced me to try other tactics. It took me perhaps a year (11th grade?) before I had enough nerve to ask her out for a date. Of the date I do not remember much except she took me to visit her mother who diplomatically told me she liked my leather (fake) jacket. The sassy cheerleader was called Judy Reyes and I distinctly remember fighting with fellow classmate Joe Davis in asserting exclusive rights to the unaware Reyes. Not only do I think I lost that fight I simply could not compete with his ability to play a great piano. In comparison to my two left feet shuffling he probably could have danced the tango. My attempts at dancing with Judy Reyes in the sock hops in our school gym were embarrasing. I finally gave up. And went back to my old self of admiring from afar.
Before I met La Uruguaya I fell in love with Elizabeth Blew (below, left). She had red hair, a pale complexion and she reminded me of a tiny racing horse. She sounded exactly like Queen Elizabeth did at her coronation. We sat in a Buenos Aires boliche (a corner cafe) sipping cocas in 1965 and I was smitten.
But it was not to be. Not only was she my first cousin but our romantic interlude ended suddenly when her boyfriend, Bill or Bob arrived. He was very blonde, very tall and very German looking in his almost Wermacht-issue uniform (he was serving in the Argentine Army while I was in the Argentine Navy). He was scary. I also felt attraction to my niece María Inés O'Reilly who led me on with lots of flirting. If anything I would have defined her as a flirt.
I met Corina Poore when she was in bed with a cold. From her bed she read my hand and told me things about me that made my blush. I was fascinated by her million freckles and her pushy demeanor.
She swept me off my feet like a pampero, the Argentine wind that comes racing in from the pampas. She invited me for a weekend at her parent's ranch in Entre Rios Province. Since I was desk bound as translator to the Senior US Naval Advisor I had to sweet talk Cabo (corporal) Moraña for that weekend pass. Moraña told me I could have the weekend as long as I told him all the "details" when I got back. Corina's brother-in-law flew us in his private plane and landed in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly a cloud of dust approached and an ancient black Packard arrived. We were driven to a gentle hill on which a large house with a veranda stood. The house was surrounded by a forged iron fence. At the door I saw the biggest Great Dane I have ever seen in my life. Corina told us we would ride before dinner. We did and after putting on my suit and tie we sat down at the dinner table, which was complete with finger bowls and a servant in back of every chair. The next day we went riding again. The cincha of my Argentine saddle loosened up and the horse sensed it. It stopped suddenly and I went flying. The horse then began to stomp on me and managed to hit me near one of my eyes. I spent the rest of my weekend on the veranda hammock while Corina placed an ice pack on my swollen black eye. This was extremely romantic but I still realized I was going to have a problem explaining it all to Cabo Moraña.
After a very brief relationship Corina went on a ship (in 1965 ships still went to defined ports of destination) to Southampton to study in a London art school. It was a tearful goodbye at Puerto Nuevo and as a parting gift I gave her Miles Davis - Kind of Blue. She told me to visit her friend Susy Bornstein who would console me. She did.
I fell for Susy Bornstein immediately. We felt guilty. While Corina had wooed me singing Bob Dylan with her guitar (that was my first knowledge of Dylan) Susy fed me Swiss cheese sandwiches while making me listen to classical music. She took me to my first two operas at the Colón, Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel and Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice.
I sweltered at both those operas in a Buenos Aires December summer in my only suit a dark wool Botany Bay winter suit. Then in the middle of a bleak Buenos Aires winter she called me up to tell me to never ever call her again. As a sailor I had no future. She pointed out that I also had no manners. She had fallen for a much older man, who played first violin at the Colón Symphony Orchestra. I was in despair. I had fallen in love with her while both of us listened to Astor Piazolla play La Milonga del Angel at the Teatro Florida.
When I arrived to Veracruz in 1966 my hair was down to my shoulders and I was a bum on Mocambo Beach. I met a beautiful girl, Cecilia Borrego, who was visiting Veracruz. Her father was a bank manager in the state capital of Xalapa. Her gray eyes were an incredible shade. My friend Homero Aridjis would have described them as obsidian mirrors. Her nickname was Gris, gray in Spanish. I told her I was a hippie (the closest I ever got to drugs of any kind were my habitual Argentine mates). She was impressed even if I seemed to have no immediate future. She was whisked back to Xalapa by her concerned father and I never saw her again.
Corina sent me a letter from London informing me she had obtained a job to work in the 1968 Mexico City Oplympics. She had patched up her friendship with Susy. I wrote her back that I had married Rosemary Healey a Canadian blonde (a blonde is to a Latin what red is to a bull).
It was Rosemary, unlike the others, who decided to make sure we had some sort of future. Rosemary was the one who made the decision that we had to move to Canada with our two daughters.
And it was Rosemary who made me a man. I would often visit my mother in Veracruz and I would arrive on a Friday night. In the morning my mother would tell her housekeeper to make breakfast for el joven (the young man). When I first showed up with Rosemary I distinctly heard my mother say, "Favor prepare el desayuno (breakfast) para el señor."
I saw La Argentina in a visit to Buenos Aires in 1989. I rang the bell at her door. She opened it, and looking at me said, "Well, aren't you going to kiss me?" She died of cancer about 6 years ago. Corina, La Uruguaya lives in London. She came for a visit in the late 80s and when my lost Argentine accent suddenly came back my Rosemary knew. She was quite furious. I keep in touch with her. She has two sons. Three years ago Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Buenos Aires. Rosemary met cousin Elizabeth Blew but I have never told her about my fondness for her. In the photo below Elizabeth is on the right. I am next to Rosemary and Rebecca is sitting in the front row next to Elizabeth.
Gillian Guess & A Secret Weapon (Maureen Willick)Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I had the fun assignment to photograph juror Gillian Guess twice and for the same magazine, Saturday Night. The first time around art director Barbara Solowan sent me detailed faxes on what she wanted. They amounted to one thing, "Alex shoot it the way Vanity Fair would." For the shoot I had two secret weapons, one was a powerful ring flash that I used for the December 1998 cover. The ring flash did a special number on Guess's cat that made him look spooky.
The second secret weapon was stylist Maureen Willick with whom I have had the pleasure of working for many years. For the first Saturday Night shoot all the clothes and shoes (and those red ones) were brought in by Maureen and she only allowed Guess to use her fake Gucci sunglasses.
By the time the second assignment came along the classy Barbara Solowan was gone and I had to communicate with a young female photo editor who told me, "Alex I don't want styling or makeup. I don't want any special lighting. I want a documentary look as if you were a fly on the wall." The point was to show Guess wearing her special ankle bracelet with which the authorities could keep track of her movements. When I told my wife Rosemary of the assignment she said, "Hire Maureen and you pay her out of your pocket." This of course was standard advice from my wife, the best, as always.
I shot the picture here with extremely fast film and the only light used came from a bulb over the bathroom mirror. Originally, I had the idea of taking pictures of Guess watching TV, with my camera to one side of the TV. But it was Guess who suggested shaving her legs in the tub and Willick and I looked at each other and immediatekly agreed it was a great idea. Willick styled the shot (note the black bra on the toilet seat and the fake leopard coat hanging from the shower curtain and the slippers. But Willick may have gone too far. A book she placed on the bathroom book shelf was retouched out by Saturday Night. You can see what it was in the original photo below.
I am happy to report that in the beginning of March a new collaboration with my secret weapon (Willick) will see the light of day. More about it then, here.
More Gillian Guess
Lauren Elizabeth Stewart At 4Monday, February 12, 2007
I have to admit that for most of Lauren's four years of existence she has played second fiddle in my attention because of her more reasonable sister Rebecca. Since I have always responded to reason I enjoy seeing how logic has cemented my relationship with Rebecca. Lauren does not respond to reason. Paradoxically she is incredibly neat and is obsessed with order, unlike her sister.
She will not have tomato soup with melted cheese in it the way Rebecca and I love it. So I told Lauren she was going to sit at the table until she finished it. An hour later I gave up and got her down from her chair. But I am begining to understand some of her reasoning. She loves paprika chicken but will not touch chicken a la Barbara which is essentially the same thing. I was pleased when I served Lauren chicken a la Barbara, and called it paprika chicken, that she happily ate her portion.
While mothers can spot traits and personality in their children, perhaps from the very beginning, I am afraid that grandfathers (or at least thison) are a bit slow at this skill. As a photographer I have found it frustrating in not being able to take portraits of Lauren. She did not understand the concept of looking into a lens. When she she learned it about a year ago she suddenly developed the habit of blinking her eyes rapidly when facing my camera.
That is all behind and now Lauren wants to be photographed. She gets up on my lap, when I sit in front of my computer monitor, and asks me to see pictures of herself.
On Saturday with Rebecca away to one of those Saturday birthday parties (at the present time Rebecca's Saturdays will be fully booked until next year) Lauren asked me if we could walk with Plata (my female cat) around the block. She wanted to know if she needed to put on her shoes. In the summer we all walk barefoot on the hot pavement and on the soft sidwalk lawns. I told her it was still too cold for that. We went around the block and Plata behaved very well, following us all the way around without being too distracted by birds.
I now feel a great "gravitational" pull between these two heavenly bodies and I must find safe shelter somewhere in between. The prospect is exciting.
Randy Rampage - D.O.A. - A Swell Day For RebeccaSunday, February 11, 2007
Rebecca put her hand on the huge monitor and noticed her hand moving as if she were dribbling a basketball. It was so loud that she shouted into my ear, "I can't hear myself talk!" I gave her a pair of earplugs and took her to the one spot where the sound was almost bearable. This was on the balcony at the recently punkified Richard's on Richards. From there we could look down on Randy Rampage, the bass guitar player of D.O.A. This was Rebecca's first live rock'n roll concert and fittingly it was to listen to D.O.A., a band that while not being politically correct is perhaps one of the few that is politically honest with a perseverance and a sense of purpose that not only looks into the future but stretches back at least 29 years.
It didn't take long for Rebecca to discover yesterday at the all ages concert, that in spite of the shoving and pushing of the youths with Mohawks and wearing studded leather jackets ("Papi, those jackets cost at least $200.") sometimes gesticulating in ways that would have Rebecca sent home if she did them at school, that it was all good, clean fun. We smiled a lot at each other and we stayed not only until the end but we were there for the encore that featured a punk anthem penned by the Subhumans's Gerry Useless called F--- You! (I don't care what you say. F--- you!) I had taken Rebecca's aunt (my eldest daughter Ale) to an all ages concert at the West End Community Centre some 26 years ago that featured the Subhumans so that she could hear that legendary song.
Among the punk glitterati we also ran into John Tanner (he long ago pushed his long legs through the floorboards of his original Mini), the new music composer Mark Armanini ("These concerts keep me honest," he told me.), photographer Bev Davies (I shoot digital, now."), a healthy looking Tim Ray, and a gum chewing ("It keeps me focused.") and video camera toting Susanne Tabata.
D.O.A. played one fast furious song after another with no breaks. Both Rebecca and I were really drawn to Randy Rampage who was the earliest bass player of D.O.A. I remember him fondly for his heavy metal band, Ground Zero which I think was the finest Vancouver ever had. Watching him play you have to believe that he must be the bassist's bass player. He simply looks the part and while Rebecca watched him in awe I told her, "We are going to meet him later and you will see that he is not in the least scary at all."
So we did just that. I told her to sit on Randy's lap. Rebecca posed with the band (Randy Rampage, Rebecca, the Great Baldini, Joey Shithead) and was thrilled.
She damanded I buy her a pink D.O.A. T-shirt. Can I possibly be this lucky?
And even more D.O.A.
Paraphinalia Of My Extinct HabitSaturday, February 10, 2007
One of the pleasures of the pre-digital world was printing from my b+w negatives in my home darkroom. There was nothing better than to go down with good negatives, mix a batch of chemicals, put a record or tape of Stan Getz Focus (Verve 42282 19822) and light up a pipe. I ignored all who told me that smoking a pipe was only marginally less bad that smoking cigarettes. By 2 in the morning (I liked to print late at night) I would sometimes get very dizzy with the smoking in my poorly ventilated darkoom. I would get so dizzy that I would vow I was never going to smoke a pipe again. By breakfast I was already changing my mind.
Sometime around 1994 I suddenly lost interest in smoking. I would smoke the odd cigar and finally narrowed it down to smoking one cigar (walking around the block while doing it) on New Year's Eve. Then I stopped completely. I gave my beautiful pipe cabinet and last large glass container of Edgeworth pipe tobacco to my son-in-law Bruce Stewart and packed my pipes away since I did not have the heart to throw them away. I have quite a few.
The logic of having a large pipe collection is as follows. I usually smoked about 5 pipes a day. If you multiplied that times 7 days in a week the figure is 35. That means that you need a minimum of 35 pipes if each pipe will rest for a week. By resting a pipe you allowed the wood to aborb all the liquids that made smoking the same pipe over and over an upleasant and bitter experience. This means that I have about 45 pipes including some specialty pipes (like the Filipino one with the long stem as seen above). The Filipino pipe was one I smoked while sitting since it was heavy. The odd shaped pipe with the aluminum band was a pre (1888) opium pipe. This is when Charles Martin Hall discovered a cheaper way of smelting aluminum. Before then the metal was most precious and even Queen Victoria had aluminum flatware. I liked to take this pipe to the theatre or to concerts as its small bore bowl packed just enough tobacco for a short intermission. I smoked it at the Old Vic when Rosemary and I went to see Deborah Kerr in The Corn is Green (the show was terrible and we fell asleep).
My favourite pipes were the Dublin-made Peterson's. The mid-priced ones were called Kapets and my favourite shape (there are two in the picture above) was the Canadian which featured a long oval-shaped shank. I have about 10 of them.
When my mother returned to Mexico from visiting her brother Tony in North Carolina she brought me the Missouri Meerschaum (corn cob) pipe. With it she gave me a couple of packages of a very sweet pipe tobacco from Sweden called Borkum Riff.
In the picture is a pipe reamer and a brass cigar tip cutter. The gas lighter was given to me by John Lekich many years ago as a memento of our Railway Club tertulia.
I don't miss my pipe smoking but there are moments when I print my b+w negatives (I still do this) that I feel like listening to some Stan Getz and smoking a pipe. But that moment is fleeting as I wonder after 40 odd years of inhaling darkroom chemicals and specially selenium toner if somehow tabacco was the lesser of the evils?
Also here are what were my two favourite ashtrays. The ceramic one I used for my cigars. It was was made by Ken Edwards in Tonalá, Mexico. The quebracho (a very hard wood from a tree that grows in northern Argentina) ash tray is where I tapped my pipes to empty the dottle which is a bit of unburned tobacco and ash that collects at the bottom of the bowl.
The Magic Flute - Papageno & Argentine BirdsFriday, February 09, 2007
Last night Rosemary and I thoroughly enjoyed Vancouver Opera's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. It was our 39th wedding anniversary. Since I picked her up at work but had to be at the opera in 40 minutes to listen to the Preacher of the Opera (Doug Tuck) give his pre-opera talk we were unable to dine out. I brought some thin bread (with the crusts cut out) egg salad and ham sandwiches and I made some fresh grape juice. This we had in our car, parked in the back alley of Holy Rosary Cathedral.
Even if this had been a terrible production, the music was divine. But it wasn't a terrible production and very much just the opposite. Mozart's opera (normally sung in German sung last night in English with a smattering of local aboriginal languages) was transported to a past, future and present within the society of our west coast native peoples. The sets, the costumes, all were beautiful. It was delightful to spot Karrisa Barry as one of the four dancers.
From our seats in front and to one side we had an added bonus to our night. It was a treat to watch conductor Derrick Inouye's elegant and enthusiastic movements as he silently (?) worded most of the lyrics!
But just as in Mozart's Don Giovanni I was more interested in the womanizer's servant, Leporello, I found Papageno (played just right by Etienne Dupois) the man to watch and listen to in this opera.
Perhaps this was so because he represented the Papageno I will probably never see in a full scale opera. Internationally renowned (well, he is on his way!) Prince George baritone, Tyler Duncan has given enough recitals in Vancouver of many of Papageno's numbers that I wish I could afford to fly to Europe this year where he will sing the part in some fabulous opera house. Last December, Tyler Duncan (Papageno) married Erika Switzer (Papagena) as seen here, above left.
While I have no photographs of this production I wonder if an opera company in Argentina (with the gumption of our very own Vancouver Opera) would dare mount a production of The Magic Flute set in the Argentine pampa and featuring lovely Argentine birds. Here Linda Lorenzo takes on the roles of some Argentine birds. Top left, Hornero, right, Ñandú and bottom left El Federal.
Rebecca, Richard Twardzik & All That JazzThursday, February 08, 2007
I never would have suspected that taking piano lessons could lead my granddaughter Rebecca into liking jazz. And, furthermore, I would never have suspected that it would happen in the backseat of our family car.
Yesterday afternoon I picked Rebecca up to take her to her ballet. As soon as she got into the car she requested, "Papi will you play some jazz? I want to hear the Work Song." I would have to say that while it is impossible for me to be objective about her I can still say that's class! After all she was requesting the Nat Adderley tune as interpreted by the Oscar Peterson Trio With Milt Jackson - Very Tall (Verve Stereo 827 821-2).
Every other Monday when I take Rebecca to her piano lessons with Nikolai Maloff I always play piano CDs in the car. Just in case she thinks I may be overdoing it I throw in some baroque countertenors (Matthew White), music from Mozart operas and early baroque violinist David Douglass's, Apollo's Banquet - 17th Century Music From the Publications of John Playford ( Harmonia Mundi 93046 71862). Douglass is accompanied by Paul O'Dette on theorbo and Andrew Lawrence-King on harps.
Rebecca remembers him as the man who plays the violin by his belly button and has a fondness for blue silk shirts. I can assure you that her observations are correct as both of us saw Douglass perform at the UBC Recital Hall some years ago with his wife, soprano Ellen Hargis.
Last week Rebecca loved tango on the piano as interpreted by Emanuel Ax and Pablo Ziegler in Los Tangueros (Sony 7464-62728-2) and Daniel Barenboim, Rodolfo Maderos (bandoneón), Héctor Console, bass (Teldec 0630-13474-2) in Mi Buenos Aires Querido.
But now that she is on the jazz kick I have to go at it slow and methodical. She likes (I never told her it was jazz) Jazz Impressions of Eurasia - The Dave Brubeck Quartet (Columbia 7464-48531-2) and the quartet's Gone With The Wind (Columbia 7464-40627-2).
Rebecca is aware of my obsession with Gerry Mulligan playing his many versions of My Funny Valentine. I will introduce her to some of Mulligan's piano playing.
For a while I will concentrate on accessible pianists like André Previn And His Pals Shelly Manne & Red Mitchell - West Side Story (Contemporary S7572) and Ahmad Jamal Trio At The Pershing - But Not For Me (Argo LP628).
It will be a while before I have her listen to one of my jazz piano desert-island albums, Money Jungle - Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus - Max Roach (Blue Note 7777-46398-2).
And then, only then, will we sit down in the living room to listen to pianist Richard Twardzik play Crutch for a Crab and Albuquerque Social Swim from The Last Set (Pacific Jazz -37).
For a girl who can always spot my Hosta 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake' in my garden, Twardzik could be a breeze.
Please note that the pictures you see here are scans of replacement CDs that I have for worn out record albums. The Twardzik one is a scan of the original record album which is larger than the scanner bed.
I am having some difficulty explaining to Rebecca that Milt Jackson (vibes), Ray Brown (bass) and Ed Thigpen (drums) are African/Americans but that Oscar Peterson is Canadian. "But he is black," she protests.
Cassiar - The Product & Ron Johnson's Shake 'N Bake ChickenWednesday, February 07, 2007
As an artist/teacher for the Emily Carr College Of Art Outreach Program (that was the name of Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design then) for 13 years in the 80s and 90s I went to teach photography in BC's interior. I visited many communities but perhaps one of the most interesting was Cassiar where I went in the middle 80s and then again in 1991, a year before the mine closed and the town became a ghost.
The first time around the town and mine were thriving. They mined "product" and only when pressed was the word asbestos uttered in whispers. In the prosperity of the time (it seemd that the Japanese used asbestos for drum brake linings) the town had a company cafeteria that served some of the best food and most delicious home-baked bread I have ever had in my life.
I quickly realized that besides satellite TV (soaps were most popular), the most active passtime was going after someone else's partner, taking advantage of the mine's shift system. Driving in and out of town there was a huge, ugly mountain that was not a mountain at all but simply a pile of mine tailings.
I was given a tour of the mine, which was thousands of feet above sea level, and then when one got there, one descended into what for me resembled a freezing hell that Dante could have never imagined. The equipment, which had to operate in minus 40 Celsius, was all electric. The big tractors and excavators had long, thick power cords that had to be man-handled by workers who had to work all bundled as they had no heated cabs to protect them. I returned to watch a night shift. Those miners deserved every penny they earned.
To get to Cassiar I had to drive from the Watson Lake, Yukon Territory airport in what was mostly (then) a gravel road. When driving on it I noticed I had two options. One of them was to drive safely and have every truck around pass me, blind me with enormous clouds of dust and then spray my incredibly cracked windshield with gravel. The second option was the one I ultimately chose. This was to drive as fast and recklessly as possible and make others bite the dust.
It was in Cassiar that I saw for the first time and for several nights the beautiful Aurora Borealis. At right I am posing with my class and above it's a self portrait by the Cassiar post office. I took the picture at midnight using a technique called extended range night photography.
The second time around in 1991 (I arrived on Friday night) I had the worry that no matter what the weather did I had to be at the Watson Lake airport on that Monday morning. I had to be in Vancouver by noon to photograph the person who was seen as the second most important man in BC. Ron Johnson was organizing Mike Harcourt's and the NDP's bid to wrest away the province from the Social Credit Party. I was to photograph Johnson for Equity's series of important shakers in Vancouver called the Power Elite. I was instructed to take a candid photo of Johnson at home.
After teaching Saturday and Sunday, a massive snowfall blanketed Cassiar and my terrible motel (it was called The Last Chance) was buried up to the windows. I knew I had to try to get to Watson Lake, no matter what. The only advantage I seemed to have (even though my students thought I had little chance of success) was that my rental car was a new-fangled front-wheel-drive Ford Taurus.
I made it by never applying using my brakes and using the car's momentum to carry me over deep drifts of snow on the highway. When I gassed up at the Watson Lake gas station I was approached by many asking me about the road conditions. The fingers in my hand were throbbing . I had been holding on to that steering wheel for dear life.
It began to snow and the airport attendant told me he did not think the small airplane coming from Vancouver would be able to land. But it did. As I was looking through the window I noticed a woman stepped down from the airplane. I mentioned to the man that the plane was small but it still had a flight attendant. I remember him telling me with a smirk, "Sonny, that there is your pilot and you better pray that she decides to take off in this weather or you will miss that job with that Ron Johnson guy you were telling me about." The plane's wings had to be de-iced several times and we took off.
A few hours later I photographed a cool Ron Johnson making Shake 'N Bake chicken.
Jim Byrnes - God ExistsTuesday, February 06, 2007
Sometimes when I dwell on finding an explanation as to why Art Bergmann isn't alive and well, rich, famous, and living in a farm in Alberta, I despair and think that God does not exist. But he does (or must) as Art Bergmann while not famous and rich is alive (many would have wagered against that) and well and living in a farm in Alberta.
Now Jim Byrnes, whom I have known almost as long as Art Bergmann (the b+w photo here is of Byrnes on July 1981) is ample proof that there is some sort of heavenly justice and that God exists. He keeps winning awards (the latest including three nominations and one award for best contemporary Canadian folk singer in 2006) for his songs and his singing, he can act and I am sure he also does windows.
I remember him fondly but best in the one time we met where I did not take his photograph. We ran into each other at Birks in Oakridge around 1997. He said, "How's Rosemary and how are Ale and Hilary (my daughters)? Are you still living on Athlone Street?"
In March of 1989 I had to find an outdoor swimming pool in Vancouver (it ended up being in West Vancouver) to photograph Byrnes for TV Guide. I remember his uncommon patience with all the discomforts of posing for me in a bitterly cold but sunny day.
I can safely say that I have never had to regret not practicing the advice that Les Wiseman gave me on Jim Byrnes. "Alex, Jim Byrnes is the kind of guy you never introduce to a woman you love. They will all fall for him." Byrnes is the perfect gentleman and Vancouver and Canada should be proud to have him here.
Some may note the odd but dramatic lighting of the b+w photograph. This is due to my unfortunate use of 1/125 of second shutter speed with the cloth focal plane shutter of my Pentax Spotmatic F. My on camera flash failed to sychronize from the top to the bottom of the frame. Had I held the camera differently (I am not consistent in this) the fortunate mistake would have been lethal and his face would have been dark. Perhaps Byrnes's God was helping me just a bit.
Virginia McKendry - Art Bergmann & Gore Vidal's MessiahMonday, February 05, 2007
With Les Wiseman I followed the alternative music scene in Vancouver in the 80s and into the early 90s when it all but disappeared. In those years taking pictures of a band in my studio was a chore. The band members would arrive late, some would not show up. Others would arrive drunk or high on drugs. It was a job that I soon abandoned for boring but predictable ones.
I always went to any concert by Art Bergmann, our very own Johnny Thunders. There was always brilliance and virtuosity even if for a few minutes. But his passion (when he played his guitar) was full-time. Interesting people went to Art Bergmann concerts. A few were junkies and others lived with them. But all were gentle and always treated me with respect. I remember taking my daughter Ale to several Bergmann concerts and I even took her to recording sessions in underground studios. Ale came to appreciate what I saw in Art Bergmann's music.
In one occasion that I remember with fondness, I went to see Bergmann at the Town Pump. I was accompanied by a beautiful brunette. The next day I received several phone calls from my friends telling me they had finally caught me cheating on my wife. With glee I had to point out that the brunette was my 20 year-old daugther Ale!
One of my favourite persons at Bergmann concerts was the classy Virginia McKendry. In the late 80s, before smoking became verbotten, watching her smoke her cigarettes, which she held with gloved hands, was magic. I finally went to her house to take her pictures. At the time I was trying to master George Hurrell's glamour lighting. In many respects I didn't rise to the situation and my photographs were not as good as they could have been. I remember that at the time Virginia lived with a beautiful but very sad looking man, Mick Joy who always dressed in black and accompanied Virginia to Bergmann concerts. Virginia was a well read young woman and when I pointed out Gore Vidal's early novel, Messiah she told me, "You can take it home if you want to." I had enjoyed the novel in my youth when Vidal, and Vonnegut were both considered science fiction writers. Messiah is about an undertaker who becomes the messiah helped by the wonders of advertising.
It was published in 1954. One of the protagonists is reading all he can about Julian the Apostate as he plans to write a biography on the man who tried to bring back pagan gods to Christian Rome. In 1964 Vidal wrote a historical novel, Julian.
I have lost track of Virginia but I always remember her when I notice Messiah in one of my bookshelves. My photograph of Art (left) is the image I always have in my head in the last couple of times that I reread Messiah.
Bleeding Heart - Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'
My friend Howard Houston in Texas and I have been discussing Edward Rutherfurd's novel Sarum particularly its section on Roman Britain. Howard is most interested in things Roman and in his last communication he wrote:
"One of the things that I found most interesting about Sarum was the tracing of the one family (the first Roman landowners) who managed to stay the leading family in the area for going on a millennia. That a society as advanced as that of the Romans could be brought down to the point that basics like how to make concrete were lost for 1000 years is a warning to us today. "
That set me to thinking about a novel that is one of my favourites and which I first read while boarding at St. Edward’s High School at Austin, Texas. The novel is Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz. I read its sequel, Saint Leibowitz And The Wild Horse Woman in 1997 when it came out. At about the same time I read Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Those three books and Howard’s communication have lead to this:
And the story said how Dr. Teller feared the immediate effects of the blast at his viewing site twenty miles from zero point and how he decided it might be helpful to apply sun tan lotion to his face.
--Don De Lillo, Underworld, 1997
“Te absolvat Dominus Jesus Christus: ego autem eius acutoritate te absolve ab omni vinculo…..” before he had finished, a light was shining through the thick curtains of the confessional door. The light grew brighter and brighter until the booth was full of bright noon. The curtain began to smoke.
---Walter M. Miller Jr. , A Canticle for Leibowitz, 1959
Sometime in 1960, in a neo-Gothic chapel at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas (Illustration above by H.N.Pharr II from the inside cover of the 1961 Edwardian), monks of the Catholic Order of the Holy Cross and their wards were chanting the Tantum Ergo. The evening’s benediction was interrupted by air-raid sirens that echoed off the walls and the high ceiling. At Bergsrtrom, the nearby Strategic Air Command base, B-52D bombers with atom bombs on board took off. We were herded into the basement shelter. Brother Peter Celestine C.S.C. said to us, “Sursum corda; oremus.”
To those of us who lived the day-to-day fear of mass vaporization during the dawn of the Atomic Age and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis, the ultimate pean to nuclear destruction was Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. This 1959 science-fiction novel peppered with untranslated Church Latin – about monk who lovingly preserves the remnants of our 20th century civilization, including a delicatessen shopping list by a Jewish nuclear scientist’s wife – has never been out of print. In 1997 Miller’s posthumous Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Miller committed suicide in 1996) is a sequel of sorts. Both it and Don DeLillo’s Underworld are about Americans coping with nuclear war – in the former, with the actual aftermath of such a war, and in the latter, with the terrible fear of the spectre of such a war created.
Today the fear of A Canticle for Leibowitz ‘s “Flame Deluge”is gone. The Berlin Wall is dust and Mikhail Gorbachev filmed a commercial endorsement for Pizza Hut, before sinking into oblivion. Martin Amis called Underworld “Don DeLillo’s wake for the cold war.” Now that Bacillus anthracis is our weapon of mass destruction of choice, some of us find an odd comfort in the familiarity of the nuclear blast and its fallout. But it all seems like many lifetimes ago, now. I would not be surprised if any contemporary reader of Underworld might not understand a number of DeLillo’s Cold War references, such as, “He stood looking at the strontium white loaf that sat on a bed of lettuce inside a cake pan in the middle of the table.”
For those like myself who have been rereading A Canticle every few years its sequel (not really a sequel, as it fits in between Canticle’s Chapter 1, “Fiat Homo”, and Chapter 3, “Fiat Voluntas Tua”) and DeLillo’s Underworld brings more of that comforting, familiar stuff. It’s kind of like seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show again. But just as we cannot ignore the Dakota, we can’t read DeLillo’s “Clyde Tolson, known as Junior, was Edgar’s staunchest aide in the Bureau [FBI] his dearest friend and inseparable companion” without knowing what’s coming. And that is the loss of innocence – the end of an era when G-men, the good guys battled crime, and criminals who had a face. Underworld is about what happened to Americans when the Russians exploded their own bomb and how the wonder of Kelvinators, Cinemascope movies, and Ford-O–Matic drive could not take away the fear of an unknown, the static beeping fo that Russian grapefruit, Sputnik. Underworld is more thematically fuelled than plot-driven, and it is populated by myriad characters. There is no single protagonist, except, perhaps a baseball that changes hands several times over the course of the novel’s four decades.
In Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, Miller plunks us down in a 32nd century post American Southwest where remnants of a previous post nuclear civilization, now horse-bound like Plains Indians, fight off the tightening control of the West by the Misery River Texark Empire while embroiled in numerous papal conclaves. We get to meet all kinds of unlikely popes, who die off with more regularity than victims in a serial-murder novel, while realizing that this future, with its papal schisms, interdicts, and marauding warlords, is no different from our own Avignon past. The Borgias would have relished this book.
Saint Leibowitz gives us delicious glimpses of what might happen in the future, such as the rediscovery of “electrical essence” and its first use (by means of a people-driven dynamo), not for lighting, but for the dispatching of criminals in an electric chair. There is an interesting parallel in Underworld. During the 70s, in a scary Bronx neighbourhood that could be a Leibowitzian ground-zero (when that word meant something that it no longer means to those who have lived 9-11), I read about a little kid seated on a stationary bike and pedaling frantically – but not for exercise. The bike is linked to a Second World War generator, and “there are cables running from the unit up to the TV and there is a wheezing drive belt connecting the the generator to the bicycle… the generator ekes out a flow of electricity to the television set – a brave beat-up model that two other kids dug out fo the garbage pits, where it was layered in the geological age of leisure-time appliances.”
Both books are complex reads and backwards page-turners. You come upon sentences with a sense of déja vu, knowing you have already read them somewhere in an earlier chapter. Each novel makes good use of repetition techniques. Miller uses the recurring themes of buzzards and a seemingly immortal wandering Jew. In Underworld, some of the sentences and paragraphs reminded me of composer Steve Reich’s 1975 composition Six Pianos –deceptively simple and repetitive music that evolves into a mesmerizing pattern. DeLillo also manipulates time. He writes as if he were working with electronic hypertext rather than words fixed on paper. And he brings to his novel such apparently unrelated topics as garbage, B-52 bombers in the desert, a single famous baseball, a martinet nun, and Lenny Bruce. Only at the end do all of the links become manifest.
Miller, a decorated Second World War hero, was a gunner in the bombing of the Benedictine monastery in Monte Cassino. Fittingly each chapter of Saint Leibovitz begins with one of Saint Benedict’s rules for monasteries. Chapter 20 begins, “We think it sufficient for the daily dinner, whether at the sixth or ninth hour, that every table have two cooked dishes, on account of individual infirmities, so that he who for some reason cannot eat of the one may make his meal of the other.” DeLillo’s Underworld is certainly fitting but in Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman I don’t see anything but a splendid dessert. That two course meal would have to include A Canticle For Leibowitz.
And Howard, if you happen to read this, none of the above mention Roman concrete.
Edith Iglauer & Valerie GibsonSaturday, February 03, 2007
In 1981 American writer Edith Iglauer wrote Seven Stones - A Portrait Of Arthur Erickson - Architect. Not known by many is that Vancouver Magazine gossip writer Valerie Gibson had helped Iglauer in her research for the book. At the time Gibson knew more about most of the people in power in Canada, BC and Vancouver than anybody. And Vancouver Magazine editor Malcolm Parry knew this. So Gibson wrote a monthly column that was the most popular column in any magazine in our city at the time. Mac knew that she had other talents and it was her 1978 cover article on 6 very old and brilliant Vancouver old timers (including Jessie Richardson) that was my first magazine cover. For many years she insisted that I take the pictures for her column, as she explained to Mac, "Alex knows who my people are and I don't have to tell him whom to photograph." It was amazing to see Gibson work a room. She would occasionally whisper in my ear, "My! That's the third time Elini Skalbania has worn that dress!"
In 1987 I went to the Sunshine Coast to photograph Edith Iglauer at her home. I was particularly excited as I had read and thoroughly enjoyed (even though I hate fishing, fish and I get seasick on any boat) her book and part memoir, Fishing With John. It was there that I also first met her son Jay, by a previous marriage to Philip Hamburger of The New Yorker fame. I don't think anybody else would have been so gracious and delighted as she was when I gave her as a gift (I was told that she was going to insist I stay for dinner) a large tin of Russian Caravan tea. The meal was one of the best I have ever had in my life. At dinner she told me that Valerie Gibson had a special gift for writing and she only wished she (Iglauer) could push Gibson to take her seriously and write.
I have not seen Gibson for at least 8 years and I last saw Iglauer and Jay a couple of years ago at a party at Arthur Erickson's garden. Every once in a while (it is usually a Japanese restaurant or a theatre) that I delight in being able to loudly yell, "Hey, Hamburger!" and Jay comes over to where I am and he updates me on the status of his mother and the state of his plays. He is a playwright.
Today editor/art director Bob Mercer told me that during his short tenure as editor of Vancouver Magazine, Valerie Gibson won the magazine an award for a profile on John Turner.
Pancho El EsqueletoFriday, February 02, 2007
I saw this forlorn guy (he is both a candle stick and a bell) at a Comercial Mexicana near our home in the Estado de Mexico (outside Mexico City) 34 years ago. The company, which had a chain of large Save on Foods type stores in central Mexico was owned by the gracious, beautiful and very Spanish Mrs. Gonzalez. I had recently taken her family photographs. Rosemary and I liked her stores because she also sold fine Mexican crafts. I had spotted this 10-inch-long guy many times but nobody had bought him. Someone had written in bold black marker Pancho El Esqueleto (Pancho the skeleton) at the bottom. I felt so sorry for him that I finally brought him home. He has been part of our family all these years and all that remains of the graffiti is that black sweap at the bottom. Inside the bell his maker signed Josefina Aguilar. While there is no connection between death and Christmas we light the candle on Christmas Eve and Pancho shares space at our Christmas Eve dinner table.
Rebecca is always scoffing at me for saying stuff, "When I am dead, Rebecca...." She is beginning to understand me. After all we had a great time looking at every momia (mummy) in Guanajuato. They are frozen in death with horrible expressions on their faces. She is still suitably impressed by the final scene in Navigator - A Mediaeval Odyssey we saw a few weeks back. The little boy's coffin is gently pushed into the sea at the end. I think it is important to recognize the existence of death at a young age.
When I was 11, or two years older than Rebecca the big orange Colegio Americano bus picked me up at my house in Mexico City. On its way to the school in Tacubaya I always anticipated as it passed by the Panteón Dolores which is a huge old cemetery in Mexico City. The long walls, all in the shade of the thick growth of trees, were full of moss. I could see the statues and crosses of the grave monuments peeking over the wall at me. I was never curious enough to visit. And of course, if I had my chance, I would go back to Mexico City just to "do" the Panteón with my cameras.
1/5 Of The Perfect BreakfastThursday, February 01, 2007
Since I can remember I have enjoyed tea. By tea I mean the stuff that Yankee Clipper ships carried while braving storms around Cape Horn, racing to get it home first from the Orient, to fetch the best price. I mean the kind that comes from fermented leaves of Camellia sinensis . I am very subjective about tea. I think Japanese maccha (matcha) is glorified swamp water, no matter how many oxidants it may have. I will drink Japanese tea, so similar to celery broth, only with Japanese food. I love the taste of tea sweetened with a sweetener (white sugar) that does not add any taste. And, like Dr. Samuel Johnson I put enough milk (very little) to allay the bite of the tannin. My tea has to be the colour of Coke so I use two heaping spoonfulls in the teaball seen here which I steep for at least 5 minutes in my Ken Edwards mug from Tonalá, Mexico.
In Argentina I tolerated the excellent Taragüí that is grown in Corrientes province. In our years in Mexico (the importation of tea was prohibited) we treasured and re-used smuggled Ameerican Lipton Tea bags. The worst tea I ever had was at the fashionable Kinneret Café at the Zona Rosa. I asked for a té con leche . I was served a cup of boiling milk with a tea bag. When we moved to Vancouver I swore I would always drink the best tea.
I purchase my favourite tea (with the exception of the wonderfully strong Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold at the Gourmet Warehouse) at the Granville Island Tea Company. They sell the perfect, strongest and most fragrant Earl Grey. If you look closely at the above image you will note the blue filaments and flower buds. Since I know so much about tea I have been ashamed to ask them what they are! Their Organic Assam and their Rwanda Rukeri are equally strong.
On my two visits to London what I missed most about Vancouver was a decent cup of tea. Unless a hotel used bottled water (they didn't) London tea is made with some swill the English call water. Their tea is terrible. But it was in London where I purchased one pound of Saint James Fannings for £85. I nursed that tea for six months back in Vancouver and this was the most complicated, interesting and flavourful tea I have ever had. In the best book about tea ( alas! a French book called The Book of Tea) this is what it says of Saint James Fannings:
Betjeman And Barton
23 Boulevard Malesherbes
This shop is regularly visited by tea lovers. Every day, a cup of one of the hundred and twenty teas stored in either red or green canisters is offered to customers - with any luck you may drop in on a day when a Saint James Fannings or a Castleton G.E.O.P. second flush is being brewed.
But tea is only 1/5 of my perfect breakfast. For 12 years Rosemary (2/5) and I have had our breakfast in bed (3/5) every day of the week. In leaner times we used to celebrate Sundays with bacon. But that is no more. Our perfect breakfast is her coffee, my tea, her toast with honey, my (two) Venice Bakery Brown & Serve Original Scissors (4/5), and a copy of our daily delivered New York Times (5/5).
Modern technology has changed the routine a bit. Since I read the Sunday New York Times at 10pm on Saturday, when it is delivered, Sunday is back to 4/5 perfection. It becomes 3/5 when our grandaughters have a sleepover (four for breakfast in bed was much too messy). But sitting at the table on Sunday with Lauren and Rebecca is 4/5 again and with the thin homemade pancakes it's a perfect breakfast again! Unsalted cultured butter and confectionary sugar on pancakes accompanied by an Earl Grey is as perfect as perfect is.
Granville Island Routine