...a straggling, gloomy, depressive, partially-inhabited place the Abbey was. Those rooms, however, which had been fitted up for residence were so comfortably appointed, glowing with crimson hangings and cheerful with capacious fires, that one soon lost the melancholy feeling of being domiciled in an extensive ruin.
William Harness a friend of George Gordon, Lord Byron
In March 1988 I photographed William Gibson in his home. Having just read his novel Count Zero I attempted to make Gibson look a cyberspace count, a Dracula with a remote.
In 1990 he co-wrote with Bruce Sterling my favourite Gibsonian novel, The Difference Engine. It is a "what if" novel in which real life early computer pioneer Charles Babbage perfects in 1855 a steam driven Analytic Engine. History and the British Empire are irrevocably altered.
Somehow Lord Byron does not die young and is the Prime Minister, his mathematical genius daughter Ada lectures on some purported magical punch cards and their ability to solve Gödel's Theorem (in actual fact solved in 1931). An interesting character of the novel is Mori Arinori, Japan's first Ambassador to the United States who campaigns to abandon the Japanese language (including the written one) in favour of English so as to modernize Japan. Wellington is assasinated when he attempts to thwart the Difference Engine's rapid change of Victorian England. This is one of my favourite of all "what if" novels. It is as good as those other two, where Hitler wins the war, Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle , and Robert Harris's Fatherland (four-door VW Beetles and President Kennedy is not John F. But his father Joseph P.).
In the late 80s I went to Shropshire and visited Nottingham. I took a side trip to Newstead Abbey where Lord Byron lived for about a year where:
...he and his university friends practised fencing, boxing and pistol shooting. From his student rooms at Trinity College he brought his gilded bed and a tame bear.
The bear roamed the Abbey in the company of Byron's other pet animals, including several large dogs, tortoises and a wolf. The wine cellar was well-stocked with good claret and the library contained many fine books - for, Byron spent much of his time at Newstead reading and writing.
From the Newstead Abbey web site.
Newstead Abbey was a delight because it was not (and is not) a National Trust historical building or garden site. It is run by Nottinghamshire and this means fewer people. I arrived after spring so the extensive rhododendron collection had already bloomed. The inside of the living quarters were slightly gloomy in an "undead" way. I thought of vampires.
We know that the poet Percy Shelley, his young mistress, his sister Mary and Lord Byron spent time in 1816 in a house in the Italian side of Switzerland at the Villa Diodati. They dared each other to write a scary a novel. Byron began one on vampires but never finished it.
Only Mary Shelley delivered with Frankenstein. Byron's young doctor, John Polidori was also in attendance and three years later published Vampyre which was first attributed to Byron. This whole story of the summer at Villa Diodati is deftly novelized in another wonderful "what if" by Argentine Federico Andahazi in Las Piadosas. Just for once English readers can enjoy Alberto Manguel's translation The Merciful Women (2002). Vampires lurk at Villa Diodati and...
It was thus delightful to discover John Crowley's Lord Byron's Novel - The Evening Land as a hardcover at Chapters for $5.99. With my Chapters Reward card I was given an additional 10% discount.
This is a delightful "what if" novel in which Byron's daughter, Ada, Countess of Lovelace (who we know was into mathematics and learn here that she was a frind of Charles Babbage) discovers her father's (whom she never met) manuscript. Crawley's novel retells (publishes?) the long lost novel whose discovery is told by Ada who feels a longing for the father she never met. Meanwhile a young woman, and her father (who have a strained relationship) forward in the 20th century re-discover traces, but not the novel of the novel. Their relationship is restored through the adventures and in a way Ada finds Byron in the 20th century.
Of Newstead Abbey, Ada writes in Crowley's novel of the novel:
I had at that time reached what I may call an epoch in my feelings about my paternal ancestors. Not long before, my husband William, Lord Lovelace, and I accepted an invitation to visit Newstead, the ancestral seat of the Byrons in Notthinghamshire, now in the possession of Colonel Widman, once Lord Byron's schoolfellow at Harrow. There - amid scenes where the father I never knew was wont to roam and to make merry; where his forbears worthy and profilgate had lived, and whose incomes they had wasted, in former ages; where nearby stands the little parish church, in whose crypt my father lies with his people - I know not how, but all that I seemed once to have known concerning that troubled and tempestuous spirit, all that I had been taught to think about him - and to hold him guilty of - all vanished, or lifted as cloud; and I knew myself to be, with all my own faults, a Byron, too, as was he, with his: and if I could not love him without charges upon his soul, I could not love myself, or his grandchildren that were my children. In a letter that is quoted in the Life written by Mr. Thomas Moore, Lord Byron stated his belief that a woman cannot love a man for himself who does not love him for his crimes.
No other love says he is worthy the name. Whether or not my own soul is capable of so august an ideal of love, I hold it to be applicable as well to a daughter as to a spouse; and none my hinder me now from aspiring it.
Another fave "What If"
An Australian Napoleon, Two Horatio Nelsons & Wellesley Is ImpressedWednesday, January 30, 2008
One of the richest experiences I can have is discovering a "new" author who has written over 20 novels. Years back Celia Duthie introduced me to Arthur W. Upfield mystery novels in which Detective-Inspector Australian half-breed Napoleon Bonaparte (" my friends call me Bony") solves murders in the Australian outback of the 1950s. It took me a while to find some of the out of print books in the author's series of about 28 novels. So much fun! I could read one after another.
I remember going to listen to Patrick O'Brian lecture in Seattle. When I got back my friend Marv Newland asked me, "How did he look? Do you think he has another novel in him?" O'Brian died after almost finishing his 19th Captain Aubrey/Doctor Maturin novel. With English author Reginald Hill I read him almost as fast as he writes them. I just finished Death Comes For The Fat Man but I was elated today to find out he has written the next one in his Dalziel/Pascoe series, A Cure for all Diseases.
It is an equal pleasure to see a film I know I have seen before, but except for a few scenes it is all but forgotten. A couple of days ago I experienced that pleasure when Rosemary and I saw Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in the 1941 That Hamilton Woman. This ostensibly British film was filmed in a Hollywood lot and it is full of innacuracies. In spite of them, it is a rowsing film full of delights. Of the innacuracies I know as I have read (over and over) one of the best Nelson biographies, Horatio Nelson by Tom Pocock (1987). In this biography I learned that Horatio Nelson was a true hero and nothing of his life needs to be enhanced. His only competition came from another English seaman Lord Cochran. There is a bit of both men, via Frederick Marryat's Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836), in Patrick O'Brian's Captain Jack Aubrey. In many of O'Brian's novels Jack Aubrey recounts being at the table with Nelson (when he, Aubrey was a young officer). Nelson asks Aubrey, ( "in a most natural way"), "Please pass the salt."
It was in the Pocock biography that I found out that Nelson had an older brother called Horatio who died very young. Our Nelson was really called Horace but quickly became the new Horatio. In actual fact, there were two Horatio Nelsons!
While I am most interested in Nelsonian lore I am not in the same league as Barry Unsworth's Charles Cleasby:
I sat on there, after the battle. I have never been to sea, except twice on the cross-Channel ferry. That was a long time ago, before my illness. Now I am his land shadow. I have been abroad only once since then, just once in twenty years. That was when I went with my father to Tenerife to see the place where Horatio lost his right arm.
in Losing Nelson (1999). This wonderful novel is in reality a very fine Nelson biography as recounted by a man obsessed to the point that he stages Nelson's naval battles, in perfect detail, in his basement.
I was but a month in the Argentine Navy when I was befriended by an experienced (on his second year of our two year conscription period) sailor. We called him and their kind, conscriptos piola. Piola in Argentine slang means quick thinking, almost sly. His name was Bjerre and he was of Danish extraction. He told me, "Those three white stripes on your collar are in honour of Lord Nelson's famous three victories, The Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar." I have since found out that the British navy had issued collars with three white stripes before all of those battles. But it rang true and I have never forgotten.
For a long time I suspected that Nelson may have been more of hero simply because we always read the British point of view. My suspicions were all wrong as Spanish novelist and journalist, Arturo Pérez-Reverte recently (2004) wrote Cabo Trafalgar - Un Relato Naval a novelized version of the events in which by slightly mentioning the ineptness of French admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve, Nelson survives (at least his reputation does) Trafalgar without Pérez-Reverte's sailors being any less than manly and brave, which they were.
When Rebecca, Rosemary and I went to the National Gallery in Washington some 5 years ago I showed here a few paintings (not more than 10) One of them was Goyas's portrait of the Duke of Wellington. The other was David's magnificent portrait of Napoleon. I told her how one had vanquished the other. Unfortunately John Rigaud's fine portrait (the one on the cover of the Pocock biography) of aspirant (Nelson was 19 when the artist began it) Horatio Nelson was not in the Gallery and I could not tell her the little story so finely described in Pocock's book Horatio Nelson:
During the coming month there were to be many meetings with ministers and senior officers in Whitehall and, before one with Lord Castlereagh, The Sectretary of State for War and the Colonies, a chance meeting and the conversation which followed illustrated Nelson's response to recognition. He found himself in an ante-room of the Colonial Office in Downing Street and sharing it with a major-general of authoritative and aristocratic manner, more than ten years his junior. The soldier was to recall how he had met there:
...a gentleman, whom from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognize as Lord Nelson. He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into a conversation with me, if I can call it a conversation, for it was almost all on his side and all about himself and, in reality, a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose that something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody and he went out of the room for a moment. I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter.
Nelson had been told that his companion was Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, just returned from a succession of brilliant campaigns in India. Wellesley continued:
All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished and he talked of the state of the country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman.
The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and, certainly, for the last half or three-quarters of an hour, I don't know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now if the Secretary of State had been punctual and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden or complete metamorphosis I never saw.
Horatio Nelson, Tom Pocock
On April 13, 1997 a book review in the NY Times caught my eye. I cut it out. Six months later, on October 12, I snipped a NY Times last page Bookend called The History of the Historical Novel. A couple of years later I found a pocket book version of Andrew Miller's Ingenious Pain at the Granville Book Company. Soon after I saw a pristine (used) first edition hardcover and snapped it up (see below, right). This story of an 18th century surgeon, James Dyer, who is born without the "ability" to feel pain obsessed me to the point that I stayed up and read it in one night. Ingenious Pain is one of the most original period novels I have read and it compares most favourably with Daphne Du Maurier's House on the Strand.
...Where's your sense boy!'
James, figuring himself to be immensly high. immensly distant, finds it hard to believe they are pointing at him, waving too, sharp downward movements of their hands as though droving the air. He steps higher, to the V of two fragile branches. Their waving is more insistent. Joshua shouts like a distant cannon. James leans from the tree. The shouting stops. Even their hands freeze in front of them. He feels as if, stepping out, he will have no difficulty in flying. He stretches out his arms, gazes into the far ends of the afternoon. His weight passes a line, fine as a human hair, and then he is flying, amazingly fast into the green sky, and then nothing, nothing but the memory of flight, faint and fading, and the iron taste of blood in his mouth.
Ingenious Pain, Andrew Miller
The book has been in my thoughts this last week. My terrible cold has persisted, past a second month and last week I was preparing myself a cup of tea. I was thinking of my very good Ahmad cardamom tea and when I opened the plain blue pottery container I could not smell anything. I went for the other blue container (Ahmad Earl Gray) and I smelled nothing. I asked Rosemary to tell me which one was which. Since last week I have not been able to smell or taste anything. I have been trying to enjoy my food using my memory and an awarenes of texture such as last night's melon with prociutto. Tea is warm and sweet. Prociutto partially salty and my extremely hot Macarico Piri Piri poured into scrambled eggs elicits not even a mild jolt in my mouth or anywhere else.
Surely taste and smell will come back! Surely Rebecca and I will be able to glory in the scent of Rosa'Fair Bianca' or our mystery peony! And what if our Magnolia grandiflora which has to yet bloom in our garden decides to do so this year? Will this most heavenly of scents be retrievable from my imagination? There is a saving grace, unlike poor surgeon James Dyer who feels no pain, I have, at least the potential for a memory of scent and taste. The pain of remebrance, will that be sufficient?
Some years ago when my eldest daughter Ale started my filing system she filed the above gentleman sniffing the wine under Wine Sniffer. I took the shot so long ago Vancouver Magazine that I do not recall the gentleman's name.
I am most sorry that both links to the book articles in the NY Times above might randomly demand access through free membership. The alternative is for me to cut and paste those articles (which I can readily see as I have both a paid, hard copy subscription and I am a member of the on line version) would get me into potential copyright problems.
A Cool Cat, A Dead Cat, The Shag Carpet & The Pool PartyMonday, January 28, 2008
Sometime in 2002 I came home after a photo job and I heard Rosemary scream, "He's dead. He hasn't moved."
I had left Rosemary in bed watching TV an hour and a half before. Until then every time Rosemary had asked to have a TV by our bed I had always said,"It's either the TV or me." Fortunately for me she had chosen me every time. But Rosemary had had a foot operation and she was bed ridden for at least two weeks so we called the cable company and had an extension brought up to our bedroom. I had left her during the beginning of Hitchcock's Vertigo. Mosca, her dear black cat was lying on the foot of the bed.
I nudged Mosca and he didn't move. I picked him up only to find out that rigor mortis had set in. He might have even died before I had left. The only cure to a dead cat, I soon found out, was an instant new one.
There is a randomness in today's blog that is not accidental. When weather is not good or I don't feel well I tend to try to file my stray negatives, transparencies and photographs that are in piles. One of the piles consists of pictures of people I don't remember or they are simply a symptom of the 35mm age when I shot several assignments (and even included personal shots) in one 36 exposure roll of film. I have been snipping them into order and then refiling them. In one negative sheet today I found three photos that had no relation to each other except I took all three around the same week sometime in the early 80s.
Mosca, our black cat on our fridge, happened, later, around 1986 when we had moved from Burnaby to Kerrisdale. Mosca was Rosemary's favourite cat and he was dear to her and he followed her everyhwhere. His coat was a slippery cool that made him a delight to hold. The negative appeared in roll that had pictures I took on a trip to the Seattle Art Museum.
On the contact sheet of the three other photographs here I found an exposure of a stripper's pool party that I had been invited to attend. The cream of Vancouver's exotics was there. On the bottom right that's the legendary Little Mary. Behind Little Mary is another Vancouver legend, Jackie Coleman.
The man with the guitar is Carl Perkins who had come to Vancouver to appear in a CBC variety show. I was the stills photographer. And the last photograph is of Hilary in our Burnaby home's shag carpet. We hated the carpet. You could drop a quarter and lose it forever. Even worse, at the time Rosemary wore contact lenses and...It didn't help that the carpet was an uncool dirty green.
We have no more shag carpets. Hilary is now 34 and her daughters, Rebecca (10) and Lauren (5) put on white socks and slide with glee on our wooden living room floor. Toby the cat follows Rosemary everwhere and best of all we don't have a TV in our bedroom.
Ritter's Cove, The CBC Educates A Stills PhotographerSunday, January 27, 2008
Fri 8:00-8:30 p.m., 19 Sep 1980-20 Mar 1981 Wed 4:00-4:30 p.m., 14 Oct 1981-31 Mar 1982 (R)
A co-production of the CBC, Taurus Films of Munich, and Global Television of London, Ritter's Cove was a family adventure series shot in British Columbia. Perceived as a successor to the network's long-running, west coast series, The Beachcombers, it was written by Lyal and Barbara Brown, who had contributed scripts to the earlier series. Hans Conninberg as Karl Ritter, an elderly pilot whose procrastination over a medical examination lost him his licence to fly. He was forced to hire Kate Ashcroft, played by Susan Hogan, as his replacement to keep his single airplane aloft and his transport business afloat. The stories generally revolved around the antagonism and mutual respect of the older man, set in his ways and his sexual stereotypes, and the younger, strong-willed woman.
Ritter's Cove was produced by David Pears, and the executive producer was Peter Kelly.
In 1979 I was a veteran stills photographer who had shot 5 year's worth of CBC variety shows at the cavernous CBC on Hamilton Street. I was not prepared to shoot drama. By drama the CBC meant anything that was not a variety show that had song and dance numbers. I hated being called a stills photographers for several reasons.
As a stills photographer I took pictures of the lead singers, dancers and hosts of the shows plus pictures of the sets for the set degigner as well as costume shots for the costumes department. But early on I was told that the floor sweepers who kept the floors clean and pristine for the dancers were far more important than I was. I was also told by the crane operator that if they ever had to stop a taping because I was in the line of the crane sweep they would probably not stop and just keep on going, with my inevitable demise. And if ever my cameras clicked and the sound engineers heard me, I would be packed and sent home to Burnaby where I lived at the time.
I resented the names "stills" photographer as I argued up an down that photographers were in existence quite a few years before movies came into the equation. I argued that film photographers should be called moving pictures photographers! But this was to no avail. After five years of this I was generally well liked. I minded my own business, they never heard any of my clicks, and I learned I had very good peripheral vision so a crane never had me in its way.
I was picked up by a Tyee Airways De Havilland Beaver (the very one that was used in the series I was to take pictures, Ritter's Cove) on Friday evenings and brought back, from Egmont, B.C. on Sunday for the duration of that 1979 summer.
It was shooting this drama that I found out that unlike variety shows where they would use, simultaneously during a taping (video tape) perhaps two large cameras, a mobile one and a crane camera to get a variety of angles it was very different. In drama they used one film camera and would take several angles, one at a time. This meant that the actor or actors had to repeat their lines over and over not only for the important takes but also to takes from the side or from above. The camera operator was almost God and he (in Ritter's Cove it was a man seen here lying on his back but whose name I have forgotten) had a beautiful assistant camera operator. And cameramen who used film cameras (at the time they used an Arriflex) looked down on those who shot video in studios.
On my first trip to Egmont I was given a room in a hotel in Pender Harbour. I was given a particular room and I soon found out why. That first Friday evening I was not able to sleep. There was all sort of banging, creacking, gasping and screaming next door. I was asked with smiles the next day if I had slept well. I was then informed that Animal slept next door. Animal worked for staging and he was over-sexed. Nobody could figure out how he could work during the day and have sex all night. I was witness to this fact.
Of the show I remember little except that the lead part was played by Susan Hogan who was beautiful and extremely gracious. The crew loved her. There was a young native Canadian woman who was striking and also approachable. The cameraman had a BMW motorcycle and on lunch breaks, he, his lovely assistant and I would hop on it and go skinny dipping in a nearby lake. We went without helmets as briefly that year someone had managed to block the enforcement of the helmet law. One of the young men working in lighting was Matthew 0'Connor (later like many at the CBC became pioneers in the Vancouver film industry). We loved his mother who was the caterer. This meant we had gourmet meals and freshly baked bread every day.
One one day the show had lots of villains who posed for me by a truck. Another very popular guest of the show was Bantamweight boxer Dale Walters who won a bronze medal in the 1986 Olympics. He was very popular with the girls. I remember that he had a brand new Honda Accura with a sunroof. He took me for some rides in it.
Most of us never appreciate how good things are when we have them and only miss them when we don't. That was not the case with me. I enjoyed every minute of it, every meal, every swim in the cold fresh water lake, every conversation I had with the crew, but most of all those landings in Vancouver's harbour in that Beaver in sunny summer evenings. I savoured them and I know remember them fondly.
The Spirit of Adventure On A Snowy Saturday AfternoonSaturday, January 26, 2008
When, as in a dream, I rode right around the place, and beheld more and more of those motionless and silent forms, with their fixed, unwinking eyes, I clearly saw one of them, whose kepi had fallen from his head, had a hole in the centre of his forehead and was dead - although at his post, with chest and elbows leaning on the parapet, and looking as though about to fire his rifle!..."What would you an Englishman, have said?" "What about a spot of tea?" quoth Mr. George Lawrence, reaching beneath the seat for his tiffin-basket.
Beau Geste, Percival Christopher Wren
Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren, Graham Walker and I went to the concert last night. It was better than we thought it could possibly be. It was specially nice for Lauren who managed to be quiet and stay awake for the whole time. It helped that she had met the musicians a week back. Rebecca listened to the concert but never really looked up as she had her eyes glued to Dracula. Dracula was a resounding success. She told me at intermission, "I really like this book, and I am going to now read it again."
A photographic job took me to town this morning so I went to Chapters to look at more of the graphic novels and decided on two (The Man In The Iron Mask, and Oliver Twist). I gave Rebecca the Dumas but kept the Dickens until she finishes the first. We might rent whatever version of the Man In The Iron Mask they may have in Videomatica to spend the rest of the cloudy day by the fireplace and an adventure film.
But I am holding back a bit. I don't want to be disappointed. I don't think that Rebecca is quite ready for Beau Geste, either the book or the Gary Cooper film. I would like perhaps to read to Rebecca from my 1914 Cassel And Company, Ltd version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (note one of the illustrations in today's blog), but not yet. I will buy her both Kidnapped and Treasure Island as graphic novels.
But soon now, on some other gray Saturday afternoon we will sit down and watch the scary soldiers (all dead) guarding Fort Zinderneuf from its crenelated walls.
A General Does Not Unsheath His Sword & Dracula At ChaptersFriday, January 25, 2008
It was close to midnight the other Saturday night when Rebecca came up to me and said, "I love books." She looked at a desk in the room. It had piles of books on it. I told Rebecca to bring the piles to me, a few books at a time and I gave a quick précis on each one and in some cases I read the first page of the first chapter. She was curious of one, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson. After struggling through the first chapter of this very small and thin book Rebecca came to understand that small books are not necessarily easy. At the very least none of the first chapters where like William Boyd's The Blue Afternoon. When I read this to Rebecca last year it brought negative repercussions from her home. This time around I tried to be careful.
I am sure my parents showered me with children's books yet I can consciously remember being 8 years old, sick in bed with a cold, and reading an American comic book, The Lone Ranger. It was around then that I discovered Achilles and began to read history books. But I also remember a first book, perhaps because of the bright green colour of its cover and the even more colorful bird illustrations inside.
El Mundo de los Pájaros was given to me (it is written inside) on the day of my first communion, December 7, 1950. I was 8 years old. The book is signed by Alicia Bakker and Suatrache Pampa. The latter name is most unusual but my guess is that they may have been teaching colleagues of my mother's. I selected one of the monochrome illustrations from the book for this blog. Such was the influence of this book (which I have always had with me) that I chose to do a nostalgia photographic essay on Argentine birds with the lovely Linda Lorenzo.
There are two other books that are part of my early life with books. One was given to all of us at school in 1950 which was the one hundredth anniversary of the death of San Martín. Perón decreed at the end of 1949 that all school children in the beginning of the next would have to write on the top right hand corner of every page of every school notebook this:
"1950 Año del Libertador General San Martín"
The book is called El Legado de San Martín. I thought it impossibly dull most of my life. As nostalgia for Argentina began to strike in my old age I gave it a read and I found it less dull. On page 22 of the first chapter called El Conductor (a milder version of the word and equivalent to leader) San Martín writes:
Mi sable jamás saldrá de la vaina por opiniones políticas.
You would have hoped that many an Argentine general of the latter 19th century and the 20th had followed that advice:
I will never unsheath my sword for political opinion.
The third book of my early life Corazón by Edmundo De Amicis (it lost its cheap cover only recently) was given to me by my father's friend, the plainclothes cop, Manrique. I remember it as my second or third grade teacher read daily from this book plus another that was a biography on Franz Schubert.
Books are in my mind because I want to gently persuade Rebecca that reading and books will never make her lonely. They are our most faithful of friends. But Rebecca gets lazy and sometimes opts for clothing Barbies on the computer or watching (to my chagrin) those programs where they appeal to children to convince their parents to adopt a child in Africa.
Yesterday I went to Chapters and chatted with a nice sales clerk woman (she had been raised in the Northwest Territories with lots of books) in the children's book section and we jointly decided to give "Graphic Classics" a fighting chance. I remember reading Ouida's Under Two Flags as a Classics Illustrated and my reading habits were never corrupted. One thing I know for sure. I will dedicate the book to Rebecca and write the date. Perhaps some day this book will be one of the treasures of her reading memory.
We listened to Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847): Sonata in F minor, op. 4 (1823)
Adagio - Allegro moderato
and we were charmed. The second movement is so beautiful that I invented a story and told Rebecca, "Felix Mendelssohn was only 14 when he composed this. He fell in love with a red haired girl who lived across the street. He was so smitten that he dedicated this Sonata to her." The third movement ("The first is my favourite, Paul Luchkow told us," but then we noticed that, unlike the other two, the first began with a solo violin part!) is equally nice and ends in a startling manner. I would have not suspected that our moment of bliss had its beginnings in 1990, when our 90 year old neighbour from across the street, Wanda Smith rang our door bell.
Wanda Smith told us with anguish that she had to move out of the house that she and her husband Claire (the colour photograph below) had lived in for 50 years. He was getting terribly forgetful and he was going to be put into a home. She was going to move with her daughter, a Protestant minister in Utah. She needed to find a home for her piano which had been given to her by her father when she was a child. We could have it for $500. The piano "crossed the street" to our house. We opened the beautiful baby grand and read Chickering - Boston. I had no clue what it was. We hired a piano tuner to come who told us, "By the way, Glen Gould had one of these in his living room." I researched the name and discovered that Franz Liszt had owned two.
But it was last Saturday when the Reverend Lawrence Donnelly of St Jude's Catholic Church let Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren and me into the Rectory's Music Studio. It was there where we found out how special Chickerings were and are. It was a cozy and nicely carpeted room with a strange square piano. We were greeted by the piano's (Chickering, serial number 17503, built in 1857) owner, eminent organist, harpsichordist, pianist, and master of the Music Room Michael Jarvis and my friend violinist Paul Luchkow.
The piano you see (below, right) is exactly like Jarvis's. It is an 1850 Chickering from the keyboard collection of the Smithsonian.
Luchkow and Jarvis had invited us to listen in to a rehearsal (at St Jude's) to this Friday's concert at Knox United Church, at 8pm.
Jarvis gave Rebecca a thorough and interesting story on how by luck he found the Chickering in Hamilton, Ontario before it suffered the fate of most square Chickerings, which is to be converted into desks. He explained how the squareness made the piano more compact but that in not having the length of a baby grand or a grand piano it was missing a lower octave. Rebecca noticed that the piano was missing one of a normal piano's three pedals. Jarvis demonstrated what one of the pedals could do. While it diminished the sturdy sound of the piano it sounded like a wonderful musical waterfall. Jarvis told us that in some circles the pedal sound is called an Aeolian harp. He suggested that Rebecca sit down and play on it but she was too shy for that. Both my granddaughters lay down on the carpet while the pair of musicians delighted us. There were a few frequent stops and corrections. Luchkow had warned me about them but he also explained that it would help Rebecca understand all the work that precedes all those "perfect" concerts I take her to.
It was reading about Franz Liszt's two Chickerings here that I discovered that the Boston firm's principal contribution to the art of piano making was the cast-iron frame patented betweem 1840-1849 and which gave the instrument more stability and a richer sound.
I took a photograph of this cast iron frame (above) and Jarvis explained that the early instruments featured the sun design seen here. And below is a picture of one of Liszt's Chickerings.
Wanda and Claire would be delighted to find out that not only have we found a home for her piano but we have found good use for it. Rebecca has been practicing and taking her piano lessons. It all started with Juan Castelao who gave Rebecca her first piano lessons on the Chickering (serial number 108516 built between 1905 and 1910) and it also involved Nicole Scriabin, Alexander Scriabin's beautiful grand niece, who posed by it even though she could not play chopsticks.
The rest of the concert will feature music by Franz Schubert and Clara Schumann. By coincidence Rosemary and I saw Song of Love (1947) which is a well made (rare) Hollywood musical biography which features Katherine Hepburn as Clara Schumann and Paul Henreid as her husband Robert. Robert Walker plays a thoroughly human, warm and funny Brahms while Henry Daniell (usually a scary Nazi) plays a scary Franz Liszt.
The piano music in this film (startingly every composition is played from beginning to end by Artur Rubinstein) is romantic and intimate. It is played in living rooms and parlours. Brahms, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt where all contemporaries. A perfect way to extend the pleasure of this concert would be to rent the film (it is available, I checked) at Videomatica.
This Friday's concert promises to be as intimate, romantic and warm. We will be there. That Chickering is only part of the attraction.
And you might note in the first picture that Luchkow volunteered to trade his valuable violin, for a short while with Rebecca's Lilly. I was astounded!
January 25 2008 from Marc Destrubé, the principal violinist of the Smithsonian's Axelrod Quartet.
As it happens, I'm spending my days this week rehearsing down the hall from that
Chickering piano, and sharing a little stage with Queen Victoria's Erard and
Paderewski's Steinway that you will find further down that same Smithsonian page,
as well as two amazing old harpsichords. They are all remaining quite silent
while we delight in four yummy Amatis. I'm a lucky boy.
I have written of one of our city's best kept secrets (so unfortunate for those who don't know) which is Dances for a Small Stage. I have written about Movent run by Julie-Anne Saroyan and Day Helesic.
Day Helesic, again
They have an upcoming (the 18th in the series!) Dances for a Small Stage , Thursday Jan 31- Fri Feb 1, which nobody in their right mind should miss. But I have a wish list for the next one, 19. Here is my idea.
In September 1999 the Georgia Straight was keen in having original photographs accompany its arts coverage (sadly that has changed not only for the Straight but for the Vancouver Sun, too). For that season's arts preview they gave me a list of 6 artists. I decided to pair them off as unlikely combinations, for example an opera singer and a modern dancer. But the most interesting combination was pianist Ian Parker and Ballet BC dancer Edmond Kilpatrick. I took two photographs in which each one featured one of the artists over the other one. I took the pictures in Parker's house and we were limited by the large piano and the cramped quarters. This did not seem to limit Kilpatrick. It was then that I came up with my idea that I would love to see various dance compositions choreographed around a piano and a pianist.
I can see now Ian Parker playing at Dances for a Small Stage perhaps paired off with modern dancer Alison Denham. Brad Turner, who plays a jazz piano, could perform with Susan Elliot and so on. And so on, but I also have the vision of dancer Cori Caulfield in an 18th century powdered wig dancing to a Mozart piano sonata.
Can Movent and Dances for a Small Stage take up this challenge? If not, there is another wonderful kept secret and that is Brief Encounters.
Osborne, Osborne & OsmondTuesday, January 22, 2008
Every once in a while I discern these odd bedfellows on my photographic files which are classified alphabetically. There are some separate classifications like authors, dance, travel, family and gardens. I photographed Adam Osborne around 1985. In 1981 he had launched into the market his Osborne 1 which was in many ways the first commercially available portable computer.
Stephen Osborne is the editor of the Vancouver published Geist - Ideas & Culture. Osborne is also a photographer and goes by the name of Mandelbrot.
I photographed Marie Osmond in January 1986 and I was amazed at her flawless complexion and her commitment to posing for me with as much help as she could. It was easy.
Hilary & The Marpole TramMonday, January 21, 2008
Trams and streetcars have always been part of my life. Perhaps because of tram 35 that used to take me to my abuelita's house in downtown Buenos Aires in the late 40s. I wrote about it here. The tram appeared again as the Avenida Revolución tram in Mexico City. These trams were silent, sleek and comfortable. They were exactly like the trams I saw in my several visits to San Francisco and which ran or run on Market Street. When my mother taught in Veracruz, Mexico in the late 60s I visited her with my soon to be wife Rosemary. Rosemary and I would sit at the Café de la Parroquia on the city centre plaza (el Zócalo) and as we sipped or lecheros (Jarochan version of the café con leche) we would listen to the wonderful combination of the nearby marimbas and the clanging of the trams. As soon as we had sat down a waiter would bring us two tall empty glasses with spoons. We would hit the glasses with our spoons and a young boy with two huge kettles would show up. He would pour coffee (without spiling a drop) until we yelled, "Basta," then he would pour the hot milk. I cannot imagine or think of Veracruz and their inhabitants (Jarochos) without thinking of the sounds of those trams and the smell of aromotic coffee and the brine of the nearby port.
In 1967 I returned to Veracruz from Buenos Aires in a tramp steame that stopped in New Orleans for New Years. It was there that I took the St Charles Streetcar and then visited Bourbon Street and saw my first stripper. The streetcar was thrilling and the stripper a disappointment.
Sometime around 1970 my friend Andrew Taylor was passing an Avenida Revolución streetcar as it was turning around a glorieta (traffic circle). Andrew was studying engineering. He received a free lesson that ended up being expensive. Since the wheels of the tram could not really swivel all that much, the body of the tram stuck out and demolished Andrew's Renault Dauphine. He escaped without a scrape.
Around 1977 I took these pictures of the boarded up trams in the storage area by Lougheed Highway and Willingdon. I had spotted them and I knew I wanted to photograph them. I calle BC Hydro (then in charge of BC Transit) and talked to Harry Atterton who was the PR man. He gave me permission to take pictures and I took my Hilary along. One of the results of this was that Atterton hired me to take PR pictures for him and when he moved to Air Canada I did the same there.
Pancakes, First Chapters & A Soccer Playing ShadowSunday, January 20, 2008
Some Sunday mornings can be very special. When Lauren and Rebecca sleepover on Saturday night (and last night was the case) we have those pleasant and lazy Sunday mornings complete with pancakes for breakfast. Today Rebecca requested (it was too late, since the pancakes were on the table) that I melt and blend honey with unsalted butter.
In a while we are going to visit Horst. He is going to look a my Noblex (it works) to figure out why nother one (a client's) doesn't. Rebecca and Lauren love to play with the female German Shephard Shadow who plays a soccer goaltender with skill.
Last night Rebecca and I went through a pile of books and I read first chapter to her. We were in search of a book that she may be able to handle soon. I had to explain Donna Leon and her Commissario Guido Brunetti series which are set in Venice. Rebecca was attracted to the beautifully illustrated covers. She asked me which one of the series was my favourite. I told her that it would always be the last one I would have read and in this case (I read it over Christmas) its title was almost appropriate. I told her that she would not like these books until she is older but that we might just try reading Richard Adams's Traveller.
She yawned and after I showed her the NY Times's Sunday date (today) she looked
puzzled as always and went scurrying to bed with Rosemary and Lauren.
Alone in my bed ( I sleep in what used to be Hilary's room when Lauren and Rebecca come over) I reflected on the pleasure of having them and I looked forward to Sunday pancakes.
Captain USN Onofrio F. Salvia, Kapitän Langsdorff Shoots Himself & I Get A HaircutSaturday, January 19, 2008
I have experienced enough in the last two days, (see yesterday's two-part blog here and here) that I feel that my life at this moment is an old style library card catalogue with all the drawers out. I have to neaten them, one at time, and close them. Perhaps yesterday's events will finally close a few drawers definitely and with a satisfying thud.
Captain USN Onofrio Salvia (left) was my boss (besides my superiors on the Argentine Navy side of things). I translated documents from English into Spanish and the other way around. I advised him on Argentine naval protocol. In the beginning when an Argentine admiral would die, Salvia would right a short letter of condolence which I had to translate into Spanish. He could not understand why my translation was twice as long. He caught on quickly to the idea that we did things differently. A sincerely yours, became:
Lo saluda con la mayor consideración y estima,
Before I was sent to serve the American captain who was head of the US Naval Advisory Group in Argentina I had started my days with a haircut at the Arsenal Naval Buenos Aires. Angel, my barber had asked me how I wanted it. I gave him my instructions which he then gleefully ignored with a corte doble cero, or a "double zero cut". He clipped it all off. As bad as I felt I had the small relief that at least I was alive as not far, in that very arsenal, Captain Hans Wilhelm Langsdorff, of the scuttled German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, had shot himself in the head with a Luger on, Tuesday December 19, 1939.
The folks of the Argentine Navy asked me to fill out a questionaire where I was to inform them of my talents. I knew that they would surely not put them to use. I mentioned that I played the alto saxophone and wrote I did not know how to type even though I did. But I was sent to work with Captain Salvia. It seems my English was useful. Since I could not type I was given a secretary. She was a lovely blonde Argentine woman of Irish extraction called Edna Gahan. You will have to suffer with the only photograph I have of her which I took in 1964.
My job was pleasant. I was pretty well able to sidestep many of the perennial boot camps. The Argentine non commissioned officers hated my guts and my swagger. I had obtained permission to smoke my pipe at work (Salvia provided me with lovely tins of Edgeworth Pipe Tobbacco) and I was able to avoid greasy kitchen bell cleaning routines as my job was supposed to be important. Suddenly I was hit by a wave of arrests and I had to spend many a night in the nearby brig of the Secretaría de Marina. I stopped these most efficiently by pinching a glossy 8x10 photograph of the head of the Argentine Navy, Almirante Benigno Varela from Salvia's files. With a fountain pen I wrote in Spanish, "To my friend Conscript Jorge Waterhouse-Hayward," and I signed it with my imitation of the man's signature. I placed the photograph under the glass of my desk. The arrests ceased.
But that situation did not last long. The Argentines wanted me to translate some documents they did not want Salvia to see so I was to do this in another office. A Lieutenant Commander ordered me to report every day at 6am. Since I had the priviledge of not having to live on the barracks (and be at the mercy of martinet corporals) this meant that I would have to stay at the barracks in order to arrive at that time. So I told the commander, "I refuse to obey your order." He asked me to repeat my statement. I did. He then told me, "In war I could have you shot for your insubordination or I could send you to rot in the Argentine Antarctic. your only relief would be sex with penguins. But I will hand out a house arrest for a month and you will report tomorrow at 6. You can complain to your friend the admiral if you want. It will do you no good."
Captain Salvia came up to me and said, "It is fruitless for you to rebel. It is obvious that a military career is not in the books for you. I will give you advice which I hope you will accept. Do nothing, obey all orders. And leave when your time is up. Then rise in position in the world and then, when you are able change the system you so abhor, change it." I never forgot those words and I respected the man. I can almost say I might have loved him. And he did have a sense of humour. Something that according to Gahan I did not have. Some years before I lost touch with her she sent me a letter with a cartoon with her comment on what it was like to work with me.
One day I asked Gahan (she was a saint as she was able to read my horrible handwriting) how she was going to spend the next day's holiday. She told me she was unaware that the next day was a holiday. I told her, "Tomorrow Friday is Benedict Arnold Day. He was a famous American patriot." That afternoon when she said goodbye to the Captain, instead of saying "until tomorrow, "she said, "see you Monday." At that point I left the room. The next day when Captain Salvia came in he looked in my direction and said, "Why don't you and Edna take the day off?" We didn't. We were too afraid.
Yesterday I spoke for almost an hour with the 90 year-old retired Salvia who had just returned from a bowling tournament with his wife. He plays in a senior's league in Reno. He told me that his eyesight was degenerating and that he had not been able to drive since he was 80. We talked in Spanish and his voice (his diction was perfect) had not changed in the least. I could only address him as "Sir," anything else simply did not seem right. I had to tell him of his influence on me and how lucky I felt that I was able to thank him. I told him how I had been strangely affected by the sight of Argentine A-4 Skyhawks being shot down when I watched the Malvinas war on television. I told him that I did not feel for the pilots. They were professionals and they had chosen their career. They knew of the consequences. But I felt different about the A-4s. I told Salvia that I felt possessive over the A-4 Skyhawks. They had been purchased by the Argentines during our tenure and I had translated the operating and maintenance manuals. I told Salvia, "How did those Brits dare shoot down our planes?" My guess is that Salvia must have smiled and then he said, "Alex, you have made my day." I could not begin to tell him how he had made mine.
The colour photograph posted here was taken by David B. Parker/RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL in 2004
Five Sailors, The Perfume Shop & Forest GumpFriday, January 18, 2008
Today's blog is a tough one to write because there are so many directions it could go. In times past, before the hyperlink, the internet version of the magazine sidebar was fashionable one could not write in any or every direction. My friend John Lekich, who has given me so much advice on writing, would have told me to stay centered and keep to one theme. I do not know if I will be able to do that here.
My story today begins with this one picture that was taken in 1966 outside the office of the Senior US Naval Advisor to the Argentine Navy. I was the aide and translator to my boss (I was seconded by the Argentine Navy), Captain USN Onofrio Salvia. I had clearance to view and translate top secret documents. These top secret documents usually involved money and how much money the Argentine Navy was spending in purchasing obsolete US equipment. By looking at those figures I could extrapolate how much more the Argentine Army was spending as the navy was more frugal and had less influence. Another top secret document involved a joint (Argentine, Uruguay, Brazil and the US) naval exercise, Operativo Unitas. The US document requested separate floors for black US non-commissioned personnel. The US Navy in the 60s did not want white and black non-comissioned officers hanging out together.
From left to right: Felipe Occhiuzzi, Jorge Waterhouse-Hayward, Victor Corrales, Carlos Alberto Santoalla and José Luís Alvarez.
Occhiuzzi was Italian and was over 6 ft tall. He was so poor that he wore his navy shoes even when he was not in uniform. He had worn them out so he put carboard on the inside to cover the holes. He was studying civil engineering. Even then he had these droopy eyes and with his extremely loud voice he would tell us the ills of the world. Occhiuzzi was used a messenger. One of his tasks was to pick up and deliver US spare parts from radars and other electronic equipment. He would deliver them to Electrónica Naval where the admirals ran a racket in which noncomissioned officers and sailors built TV sets from scratch and made a tidy profit.
Corrales was a Spaniard who loved to eat and on Mondays (we were usually given the weekends off and we had the privilege of not having to live in the naval barracks) he would tell us of the meals he had eaten. We were acomodados (an Argentine term denoting that we had friends, higher up, and we had comparatively cushy jobs). Corrales was in charge of purchasing snacks and sandwiches and making the coffee for the staff of American officers and the Argentine liaison officers.
Carlos Alberto Santoalla and José Luis Alvarez were both of Spanish origin. Santoalla was always depressed. He was extremely left wing and believed in all kinds of conspiracies involving the CIA. Only now have I come to realize that he was mostly right. Alvarez kept to himself and told us of his conquests (married women). He worked part time in a perfume shop. We all thought he had been born for the job. Both Santoalla and Alvarez cleaned around and served the coffee. Santoalla found it so demeaning to serve those American and Argentine brutes that he would look sickly and pale. We suspected that he sometimes pissed into the officers' coffee before serving them. After the navy, Santoalla went to work for a huge insurance company and he had a desk in a cavernous structure full of desks. He had always reminded me of an Argentine version of Kafka so I thought his job was perversely appropriate.
After our two years we all went our separate ways but somehow Occhiuzzi, Santoalla and I managed to keep in touch. Occhiuzzi graduated (in spite of overcrowded classrooms and numerous coups) and obtained a very good job building automobile plants for Ford Motor Company of Argentina. When Ford left Argentina he was laid off and was never able to find a new job. He had some savings and land investments that saved him in the end. Santoalla kept disappearing but we always managed to find him. His last job has been to sell, door to door, supplementary medical and ambulance insurance.
This now brings us to our story.
When I last saw Santoalla (around 1998) he told me that in his office he had a nickname. It was Foregún. It seems that while trying to sell insurance he was accosted by a thief who pointed a gun at him. Santoalla turned around and ran away. The thief was not able to catch him. He smiled when he told me the story. But I could not catch on and had to ask him to elaborate. "It had all to do with the fact that I was able to run away because I can run quickly like that actor in that movie." Finally he was able to explain the the movie and I realized it was Forrest Gump. About a week later Occhiuzzi, Santoalla and I met for a Pizza.
Five months later the doorbell rang at Occhiuzzi's house. A man with a Hitler moustache and large briefcase and a smartly dressed woman were selling ambulance insurance. Occhiuzzi told the man, "I would not let you in my house dressed as you are. You look a mess. You are as much an embarrasment now as you were when you served ungloriously in the Argentine Navy. As for you, young woman, I will let you in." The man in the moustache (Santoalla who had not recognized Occhiuzzi) turned around, grabbed the woman and both ran away. Occhiuzzi ran after them and with his loud voice called out Santoalla's first name. They stopped and a spooked Santoalla recognized his erstwhile navy buddy.
In 1994 Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Argentina and we met up with Occhizzi on the beach in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Rebecca instantly liked the loud and lugubrious looking Occhiuzzi. She noted his large hands.
But we never connected with Santoalla. He was moving and he told me of many problems and said he was simply unavailable. He also told me that he was a private person who really had not much interest in seeing anyone from his past.
Three Former Sailors, Technological Advances & Skype
It was in 1968 watching 2001: A Space Odyssey that characters in the film ever so casually had video conversations with their families from remote areas in space. It was so realistic, so matter of fact that the excitement of reading the explanation in Dick Tracy's comic strip every time he used his video/wireless watch was not necessary.
My 85-year old first cousin and godmother, Inesita O'Reilly Kuker, who lives in Buenos Aires, used to grudgingly send me, perhaps a letter a year where she would use up the small sheet of writing paper to tell me how she hated to write. Los avances tecnológicos finally lured her to the use of a computer and not a week passes without some missive from her. A renewed sense of stuff shared through the years finally brought Rebecca, Rosemary and I to visit Inesita, my half brother and family in 2004.
But the usual communications gap happens. Time passes and the emails fade and before you know it the connections are gone. But I make my efforts and I prod them and send them emails or call them on the phone. I sometimes wonder if it is at all worth the effort. Should not one put emphasis on those physically near us? It is my wife who often says of people with whom I shared a freelancer's profession at Vancouver Magazine in the 80s, "You may have had something in common with them then, but no longer. It is of no use to call them up or visit them and try to make things as they were."
I recently talked to one of Inesita's grandchildren, José O'Reilly in spite of the cross platform situation (a Mac versus a PC) that had separated us when we tried to use MSN video calling. Skype solved this and we were able to see each other in that suspicious off-camera look (the video cam are positioned over the monitor) that nags me about MSN/Skype communication. But it was great!
I called Inesita (she has no camera) my computer to her phone and the sound fidelity was amazing. I talked to my former heartthrob (and first cousin) Elizabeth Blew with the same method. We talked for over an hour. But it was with my favourite nephew (Inesita's eldest son and José's father) Georgito where I felt some sort of a strain. He said, "Here we are talking and after some time we have nothing to say to each other." His statement left me saddened. Could it be true? Is video communication better than none? Can a snail male relationship of perhaps 8 to 9 letters a year suffer the rapidity and compression of a one hour Skype?
Rosemary and her older sister never had much in common. Her sister Ruth was into sports and eventually became a Physical Education insructor.Rosemary was never into sports. Their relationship was remote and more so with the geographic separation between Vancouver and Brockville, Ontario. They now talk and see each other for hours on MSN. They talk about who died, who is sick, the gardens and Ruth's vacations in Cuba and Florida. MSN has brought them closer when they weren't close at all.
I Skyped Felipe Occhiuzzi and we talked for an hour and a half. He is finally beginning to warm to technology. His youngest daughter hauled the computer away. His older and married daughter in Italy told me, "If that computer were still at my father's it would have gathered dust and he would have placed a pottet plant on top."
I tried to needle him into losing his temper by telling him that his approach to life was a negative one. "It is negative only from the outside, I smile within, " he explained. When I broached the subject of technology he told me, "No quiero quedar colgado de la palmera." I had never heard this bit of porteño logic. To be left hanging from the palm tree (there are many in Buenos Aires) means to have life pass you by. I have sent emails to Occhiuzzi via his daughter explaining what a hyperlink is. My emails are full of them and for someone who writes longhand on paper it will be a revelation.
If portable digital books are to become a reality they will have to adopt the concept of hyperlinks or such features of being able to click on any word (as in NY Times articles) and get a dictionary definition. I think that Occhiuzzi will understand the potential.
Not so and not yet Carlos Alberto Santoalla. I Skyped him and he has as an excuse to not communicate that he was an inward person and that he liked it to be like that. I asked him if he had a computer. "We have two or three but I don't think they work. I don't know if we have a connection to the internet as I perhaps have not paid." He told me his wife had email but he could not remember her address. The same excuse was given when I asked for his son's emails. He did tell me that one of them was a web designer. He told me his name was Federico. While Santoalla gave excuses for not remembering his email I Googled Federico Santoalla and obtained his email address. With vague promises that somehow he would keep the lines of communication open I hung up and wrote to Federico. Federico replied and explained how his father rejected all efforts to seek technological advance.
It was Occhiuzzi who explained it best. "Santoalla never recognized me when he saw me at the door because he is a bat. He uses his sonar to avoid looking at people and he moves out of their way. That is the way he is." In spite of it all I have not given up and perhaps soon I will Skype Santoalla. Could it be possible that there is a relationship of friends there?
Asymptotes, Sine Waves, Bell Curves & Beverly D'AngeloThursday, January 17, 2008
Not too long ago I had a Vancouver choreographer of note in my studio and I asked the choreographer how things were. The reply was startling and dismaying, "I had my moment years back."
In the early 60s I studied mathematics and statistics and learned about curves. I have since then come to the conclusion that just about anything related to human nature and human relationships can be defined by three curves.
2. bell curve
3. sine wave curve
I wrote about the sine wave here and about asymptotes here.
Of the asymptote I would like to write further. Lucy will not take away the football so that Charlie Brown will not fall when the asymptote finally (inexorably?) hits the X or Y axis. My wife Rosemary will stop worrying when all our problems, our children's problems, our granddaughter's problems, our cat's problems, etc are solved. And that will happen, in the best of all possible worlds when that asymptote nudges that X or Y axis as it nears mathematical infinity.
Around 1980 the careers of Sissy Spacek ( a sine wave with its ups and downs) got in phase with Beverly D'Angelo's career sine wave (with its ups and downs). For that brief moment in time both would shine in that beautiful 1980 film, Coal Miner's Daughter and then both actresses would go their way and out of phase.
If one were to investigate D'Angelo's career one would guess that Coal Miner's Daughter was not the high point of her career (the top of a statistical bell curve) but her role in 1983's National Lampoon Vacation.
By the time I photographed her in 1988 when she had come to Vancouver to publicize the film Cold Squad with Martin Sheen her moment and her position in that bell curve (over that top hump) was gone.
Can our lives possibly be so depressingly mathematical?
A Fasting Coyote - Mike Harcourt & Homelessness In VancouverWednesday, January 16, 2008
Homelessness can be solved by building homes for them.
Mike Harcourt - 2007
There is nothing more self-evident than that which is self-evident.
Willoughby Blew - 1994
When Rebecca and Abraham Rogatnick and I go to the baroque concerts on select Friday evenings at St James Anglican on Cordova Rebecca invariably asks me to drive by Main and Hastings. "I want to see all those drug and homeless people," she tells me.
I was 9 when I first got a glimpse that there was something not quite right with my world. My father had taken me to downtown Buenos Aires to see a documentary (in living colour) of the Jívaro Indian headshrinkers. As we left I was feeling mixed emotions after seeing those miniature heads with their sewn up eyes and mouth. There was a woman outside holding a baby and she had one hand out. "Who is she?" I asked my father. His answer, "She is a Bolivian beggar," was much too complicated for me to comprehend. At the time and even now many Argentines believe there is no poverty in their country and only Chileans, Bolivians, Paraguayans and Peruvians who drift to Argentina are poor. By 1954 I knew a bit better and I heard my mother telling my grandmother how Perón had built high walls to cover the sight of shanty towns when important dignitaries came to town. The walls were then painted with slogans about a Plan Quinquenal, a Stalin type five-year plan, or such sayings as "En la Argentina los únicos privilegiados son los niños", in Argentina only the children are deserving of privilege.
Thus I never really got to see Argentine shanty towns or villas miseria as they are called. By 1955 we were in Mexico City and poverty and beggars were much more evident. I observed pepenadores which is a Náhuatl word for scavenger. These people pushing makeshift wooden carts picked up cardboard and whatever other potentially valuable stuff they could find. This was taken to huge mountains of rubbish in the outskirts of Mexico City where it was distributed into piles and eventually sold to early Mexico City recyclers. The pepenadores and their families lived in and around these dumps.
A couple of years ago retired Provincial NDP cabinet minister Bob Williams went to Buenos Aires to investigate how people live in the huge villa miserias of the city. One of the biggest, Villa 31 is located between tracks of the central train station of Retiro. Williams came up with a solution that would greatly increase the income earning capacity of those who live in the villa miserias, many of them being cartoneros who collect carboard. He told me that small and efficient garbage compacters would make it easier for residents to recycle.
On the northeast corner of Mexico City on what was once lake Texcoco, in the early 60s there was only a dry lake bed of what had been a lake during the time of the Spanish conquest. After years of draining it to satisfy the thirst of the growing Mexico City metropolis it was now a waste land. Squatters moved in little by little and in 1963 the growng shanty town was officially designated as the municipality of Ciudad Nezahualcoyótl named after a poet king of the 1400s whose name in Chichimeca means Fasting Coyote. I would think that this would be a most appropriate name for people whose drive to feed themselves every day was no different and no less bleak than an Innuit attempting to survive a winter in the 19th century.
By the time Rosemary and our family moved to Vancouver in 1975 Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl already had a population of one million. In the dry winter, winds from the north would blow past the shanty town lifting fecal matter that the rich in the southern parts of the city would breathe. It was then that respiratory diseases became endemic in the area. Today Ciudad Nezahualcoyótl's population exceeds 4 million. In the early 70s Rosemary and I taught English to the personnel of the Westin hotel Camino Real. We taught the room service, housekeeping staff on how to deal with their interaction with American guests. We taught them to reply to such things as, "I have no hot water," Can I please have a grapefruit and some apples and pears?" We soon found out that many of our students, some who rode in rickety buses for two to three hours to get to the hotel lived in Ciudad Nezahualcoyótl. Most had never seen a pear, an apple or a grapefruit. Rosemary and I started to bring fruit to the class to show them what a mysterious grapefruit looked like.
Argentines have villa miserias and the Brazilians their favelas. Most countries have them and find euphemisms to soften the stigma. In the 1980s my wife used to make business trips to Los Angeles. I remember her calling me up one evening and telling me that there were people outside the hotel living in cardboard boxes. It sounded surreal, almost as surreal as the Tren Blanco.
The Tren Blanco (white train) would leave the Buenos Aires station of José León Suárez around 5 pm. People boarded the train with empty pushcarts. Like a rápido, the train would then speed to the downtown central station of Retiro without stopping. I saw it many times in the late 90s. In Retiro the people and their pushcarts would then go and pick up cardboard and stuff left outside buildings in the business district of the city. They would then return around midnight when the Tren Blanco would take them back to José León Suárez for the eventual re-distribution and recycling of the stuff. It amazes me that the railroad company (now privately run) would charge these Argentine cirujas (the Argentine term for a Mexican pepenador) for the use of the train. Waiting for a train at the station of La Lucila (coming back from visiting a relative there) I remember in 2004seeing the white train pass by with its cargo of cirujas and stuff. It was a ghost train and to many who live in Buenos Aires the story of the train is an urban myth. From the high vantage point of my brother's apartment that overlooks the Retiro railyard I was was able to see in 2004 the vast and sprawling Villa 31. It is no myth.
I have been giving all the above some thought as I try to grapple with Rebecca's obsession with passing by Main and Hastings. Except for an occasional makeshift structure under the Granville Street Bridge I am not sure that Vancouver has a shanty town. Unlike other cities of the world is Vancouver truly not only a nuclear weapons but also a shanty town free zone?
What would happen if the Finning Tractor land were razed and fiberglass or corrugated metal roofing were piled in one corner with scrap wood and other building stuff? Would the homeless come and build? Would a shanty town solve our homelessness? It would be easy enough to build high Perón style walls around it to hide the potential eyesore from Olympic visitors. Would Vancouver, at last, boasting a real shanty town, be finally that world-class city it strives to be?
Architect Abraham Rogatnick has explained to me that Federal and Provincial building codes stipulate how small a bedroom can be. A homeless person wants a room with a bathroom. A prison cell is surely a room with a bathroom. And surely the Federal laws that regulate the "humane" dimensions of a prison cell could be ammended so that rapid, prefabricated housing could be built in Vancouver and prove that Mike Harcourt's solution isn't all that untenable. Is it self-evident?
Oblivion - Olvido, Pirandello & Epicurus of SamosTuesday, January 15, 2008
Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.
Fragment II, Epicurus of Samos
I have had a Mexican made Astor Piazzolla record (Real LPR-2025) Oblivion/Olvido since the late 80s. I never bothered to read the brief liner notes. I never knew that the music (very lovely it is) was from the sountrack to Marco Bellocchio's 1984 film Enrique IV which was based on a play by Luigi Pirandello. Of Pirandello I know next to nothing except I saw Vittorio Gassman perform at the Vancouver Playhouse some monologues (in Italian) from his plays in the mid 80s when Gassman visited Vancouver. I never saw Henry IV, and should have as both Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale are in the cast.
Last year my friend Marv Newland, a city animator (of the classic kind) called me up enquiring about Astor Piazzolla's milonga Oblivion. It was only then that I noted the double name of my record and that olvido is not at all an accurate translation of oblivion. I have been thinking about the problem since. It came back full force when I used the word oblivion here a few days ago. I searched for the Epicurus quote (above) in my Man and Man: The Social Philosophers Edited by Saxe Commins & Robert N. Linscott(Modern Pocket Library 1954).
I remembered Ramón Xirau who introduced me to Epicurus in 1964. Xirau, who spoke the languages of all the philosophers (ancient Greek, Latin, German, English, Italian, French, etc), always stressed how many words and concepts in Greek, as an example, had no exact translation. Ancient Greek nous could only loosely be translated as soul/spirit.
Perhaps a good example is the impossibility of translating into Spanish, in few words such sentences as:
1. I was being tailgated when I was suddenly rearended.
2. The professor, in the beginning of his lecture, gave handouts to his class.
I think that the best idea of oblivion has to be the Epicurean concept of death as seen in fragment II. Olvido in Spanish simply means a state of forgetfullness. There is no one word in Spanish for oblivion. I have not been able to nail down if Piazzolla himself (who spoke good English) gave his lovely composition the double name.
If anything I remember that Xirau taught his class in English and in Spanish and when he impressed on me Epicurus's idea of death he must have used the English word oblivion.
In the play a man falls off his horse and believes he is the Holy Roman Eperor Henry IV (lived at the time of the Norman conquest). The Countess Matilda and others, including a psychiatrist, try to cure him of his amnesia/madness. Some years into his disease he confesses to some of his caretakers that he is not mad and knows who he is but simply comes to the conclusion that we all wear masks and we are all crazy so therefore he is not insane in the least. The film has an ending that twists Pirandello's version. I will have to find this film to verify which meaning Piazzolla had in mind, oblivion or olvido.
The photograph above is a seascape I took from the ferry to Port Townsend, Washington using Kodak Infrared film and a Widelux, a swivel lens panoramic camera.
The Enigma Of The Woman In The DunesMonday, January 14, 2008
In 1964 I saw in Buenos Aires Hiroshi Teshigara's film Woman in the Dunes (Suno no ona) about a young Japanese widow Kyoko Kishida traps a vacationing entomologist (Eiji Okada) who traps him in her sandpit house. This is the first film I ever saw where a woman was in charge from beginning to end and played a black widow to the hapless scientist. The lovemaking is charged by a woman who takes more than gives, yet gives more. The scenes confused my young, inexperienced and mostly ignorant mind. I wanted to look away but I could not. I was to experience this electricity years later, and sand almost had its role.
By the late 90s I had photographed many women, been married for over 30 years and had two daughters. I thought I knew a lot about women. I was to be proven wrong by my photographic association with Japanese/Canadian Helen. The more she opened to my camera in a startling progression of years, I came to understand that I knew even less about women than I thought I had. She was an enigma. She had eyes, whose colour to this day I cannot exactly describe. She had a way of looking at me and when I thought I would vaporize she would look away and I could feel a relief.
With Helen I tried all sorts of photographic methods including a pinhole camera (first photograph, above left). Helen always rose to the challenge of the difficult. I did not in the end rise to that challenge when she suggested we cart sand ( two floors) into my studio and replicate some of the scenes of the Woman of the Dunes. To this day I regret my stupidity but I am thankful for having been allowed a partial entrance into the unknown.
Saturday evenings are full of pleasure. Hilary, Rebecca, Lauren sit across me at our dining room table and Rosemary to my left. I relish moments that one can never take for granted. They will soon pass and only a fond memory will remain perhaps with the little girls and oblivion for me. We retire to the den and sit by the fire. We scavange bits of wood from the nearby houses that are being built in our neighbourhood. I am careful to supervise Rebecca who insists on lighting and tending the fire. I often tell her (what my grandmother used to tell me), "Niños que juegan con fuego se mean en la cama." Which translates exactly to, "Children who play with fire will piss in their beds." This makes her smile and I can understand her attraction to fire. I have had it all my life.
I take them home around 8:30 and by the time I come back Rosemary is almost asleep. She often says, "I am only resting. I will get up in a while," but she never does and I am left in house that is as quiet as a house with two humans (one asleep) and two cats (both asleep) can be. I read but sometime around midnight I get to think while being distracted by the detritus that one can accumulate in 65 years. There are pictures on the wall, Mexican plates that belonged to my mother, Mexican masks of a collection that I only managed to begin, but invariably I look upon the wall to that facón or gaucho knife given to me by my Argentine navy colleagues when we made our fairwells and parted ways. Perhaps I looked at it since we had watched five minutes of Rebel Without a Cause which featured a knife fight. Knives always make me think of the poems of Jorge Luís Borges. I go to my book shelf with books in Spanish and pick up Jorge Luís Borges Obra Poética 1923-1977 and go to the poems (there are many) that feature knife fights.
Last night I went a bit further and consulted one of my photo files which I know feature my facón. The file, an extremely thick one, is called Linda Lorenzo. I photographed this cromo (a word we use in Spanish to describe a beautiful woman where adjectives fail), in a joint project with Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez (two Argentine artists). We photographed, sketched and painted Lorenzo (also Argentine) and imposed (as if she were a blank canvas) on her our childhood and later fantasies related to our homeland of Buenos Aires, Argentina, its pampas, the tango and yes, Borges and his knives. But Borges was far away from my thoughts when I photographed Lorenzo with my facón and one of Nora Patrich's black ponchos.
As a child of 7 or 8 I listened to the radio. Sometimes they were live broadcasts of Juan Manuel Fangio racing in rural road races. But more often than not I would listen to Tarzán, El Rey de La Jungla or El Poncho Negro. El Poncho Negro was an Argentine super hero part Zorro and the Lone Ranger. I can still remember the horse galloping (no Rossini's Overture to William Tell here) and the voice that would slowly say "El Poncho Negro."
So with poncho and facón (and a rastra which is a gaucho belt) we dressed up Lorenzo. I took many photographs and Sanchez and Patrich sketched and sketched. Here are some of my favourites (there are others). These will not unduly affect the eyes and minds of young persons who might take a peek here. And if you do want to ask, during the hot Argentine summmer, Poncho Negro did remove his poncho...
Brad McDonald The Fearless Bug Wrangler & The ColonelSaturday, January 12, 2008
When Brad McDonald, famous Vancouver "bug wrangler" showed up at my door in 2000 with a tarantula in tow I started getting the creeps. And when I photographed McDonald in my living room with the spider moving up his neck the shudders that went through me reminded me of the Colonel so many years back in 1963. I felt I could not tell McDonald the story and quickly took the shots so I could be rid of his bug.
I was never afraid of bugs and spiders and even today I share an interest in them with Rebecca who scours my garden in the summer looking for bugs. She overturns rocks and peers into my roses in search of excitement. But I draw the line at tarantulas. Perhaps it all began in 1963 when I showed up at a pensión in Mexico City. I was going to the University of the Americas and I needed a place to stay. This particular pensión was run by a French family so the food was exceptional. The only problem was the other boarder. He was a lean retired USMC Colonel from Carlsbad, California who immediately told me, "Call me, Colonel, breakfast is at 6." I soon found out that this was not quite true. I woke up at 6 to find out that our first order of business was to run around the block several times and we then did what the Colonel called calisthenics. It involved chin ups and countless pushups. It didn't take me long to find out that our diet was previously vetted by the Colonel. For a year I lived in a clandestine boot camp and I was perhaps as fit as I ever was.
The Colonel had other clandestine activities in his past. He had instructed the hill tribes of Laos and Vietnam, the Montagnards in the art of anti guerrila warfare. He had also pioneered, so he told me, the idea of using helicopters as gun ships. In his mellow (very rare) periods he would summon me to his room and show me photographs of places I had never suspected that existed. One such picture showed him standing by a huge stone jar and he told me about the Plane of Jars. It was in one of these mellow periods when the Colonel, with an almost smile on his face, confessed to me that the sight of a spider made him freeze on this tracks. "I can face anything except a spider," he told me and then proceded to explain with a luxury of detail (he was using his GI Bill to pursue a career in writing) how a spider's legs were independent of each other. Perhaps unknowingly I had come to admire this gentle but fierce man and I too became afraid of spiders.
One day he told me ( a wonderful vision that has remained with me all these years), "We were on patrol in the jungle with a bunch of Montagnards when we spied on a young woman eating a mango on her stomach. She was casually savouring her fruit while a man on top of her was doing his thing. It was a hell of a sight, they were so independent of each other."
Turning Into LearFriday, January 11, 2008
M. William Shak-speare : His True Chronicle Historic of the life of and death of King Lear and his three Daughters. With the unfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humor of Tom of Bedlam...
The title page of the first Quarto edition of King Lear
The melancholia that affects some of us during January, exacerbated perhaps by the unending deluge of rain must have been palpable to my friend Mark Budgen who last night sent me an email titled Of self-anointed monarchs . We had been earlier discussing the mayoralty race in Vancouver:
so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we'll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins, who's in, who's out,
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies:
All the above makes me think that we don't really need to look at ourselves in the mirror to notice the march of time. All I have to do is gaze upon Christopher Gaze's Richard III as I saw him in 1984, as I saw him in 1998 and as the lean but certainly graying man that is my friend now. They say that the internet is eternal and I found out, a week back, to my chagrin that the non payment (through my confusion) of $8.40 to the keepers of my domain name resulted in instant oblivion. A plug was pulled by them somewhere and the electrons that were me dissipated into the ether.
I am now convinced that a "more" eternal possibility (a good friendship) is the calming voice of Christopher Gaze who in November, 2007 told me, "I am going to be Lear in the next year." Could it be that my own mirror of passing time will cloud if I can no longer look or imagine Christopher Gaze's voice? I believe so.
But then Harold Bloom (both a favourite of Christopher Gaze and of mine) writes in How To Read and Why:
We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or dissapear, overcome by space, time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life.
Kaiser, Kaisers, Henry Js, French Fries & Giorgio de ChiricoThursday, January 10, 2008
Every time I pass the Hongkong Bank building on Georgia and Hornby I think of many things including a big hole, Henry J cars, Gary Taylor's Bradley's, Henry John Kaiser, his grandson Edgar F. Kaiser Jr., French fries and a Giorgio de Chirico painting that went up in flames.
For me it all started outside the American School on Freire in Buenos Aires in 1951My mother taught there and I walked a few more blocks down the street to the American Grammar School. Parked in front on Freire, one of the students had brought his brand new Henry J. It was a smallish car with unusual fins and it was painted in a bright middle blue. I had never seen a car that colour and that shape.
The car was the brainchild of Henry John Kaiser and Joseph Frazer. Kenry J Kaiser, an American had moved to our Vancouver in 1912 and had started the Henry J. Kaiser Company Ltd in 1914 which built the first concrete paved roads in Cuba. During the war Henry Kaiser had innovated the rapid construction of modular-built ships (using car assembly line procedures) which became the famous Liberty Ships (the later ones were called Victory Ships. One Liberty Ship was built in four and a half days. These ships transported, as an example, thousands of Sherman tanks as fast as the Germans destroyed them. Henry J Kaiser's son, Edgar F. Kaiser continued with the family tradition (he supervized the building of Liberty and Victory Ships in Vancouver) and had a reputation of pushing his employees to their limits.
It was in the late 80s that I first met Edgar Kaiser's son, Edgar J. Kaiser Jr. I was to photograph him many times. I quickly found out that he spoke a perfect Argentine Spanish. The reason was that he was in charge of the Kaiser car production in Brazil in Argentina and Brazil which made cars into the late 1960s after the company had stopped production in the US in 1955.
I remember vividly the Kaisers in Buenos Aires as they were extremely large cars in comparison to the smallish Peugeots, Renaults, Austins and Fiats that were more economically priced.
To me those Kaisers were beautiful with a curvy windshield and curvy side windows that reminded me of art deco structures like the American Chrysler Building. Only a few years ago when I photographed my favourite military airplane, a Grumman A-6 Intruder at the Pensacola Naval Air Museum did I finally notice the resemblance between car and plane.
The hole (if you notice on the top right of it, you will read Bradley's which was Gary Taylor's last venture in the entertainment business) preceded the building of the main branch of the Bank of BC. Its CEO was Edgar Kaiser Jr. When I photographed him with the model of the building which then became the HSBC bank he shouted at the underlings that told him that the architects had decided on a particular colour for the building's glass.
I remember him saying something like, "I don't care what they say, this is my building and I will decide on the colour of the window glass." I never found out if he indeed prevail with his choice.
On a previous occasion I photographed him for Equity Magazine. We used a beautiful chess set as a prop. I conciously cropped out of my camera's viefinder a beautiful Giorgio de Chirico painting (in the photograph you can get a hint of the bottom frame). Years later when I photographed Kaiser who was backing a venture that proposed installing French fry vending machines in airports, etc I asked him about the de Chirico. Kaiser's house had gone up in flames a few years before. He looked at me sadly and told me it was gone as well as most of his extensive (one of Canada's largest) art collection.
Articles had appeared at the time on the French fry venture that reported that the machines had a tendency to catch fire and also stank of cooking oil. There is no way that Mr. Kaiser will pose with chips for you, his publicist told me." I showed up the morning of the shoot and had a nice chat in Spanish with Kaiser and asked him if he would pose with product. Without any hesitation he sent the publicist to buy some chips at MacDonald's and then we filled an empty Spud Stop container and I took my shot.
On Monday Rosemary watched Hillary almost cry on BBC. Rosemary wasn't convinced but I was. If anything I almost consider myself an expert on women crying. At least four actresses have cried on demand for me in my studio and Rebecca, my granddaughter knows I offer next to no resistance to her when she cries. She can cry on demand with the panache of a seasoned actress. I remember the first time someone cried on demand just for me.
In April 2001 director Richard Wolf and playwright/asistant director Tim Carlson (both of Theatre Conspiracy) approached me with a unique proposition. I was to photograph the cast of Patrick Marbler's play Closer (a Vancouver premiere on June 7) and provide the pictures for the program and also display them at the opening (Performance Works, Granville Island) in large framed prints. The play is a about a complex relationship among two couples. One of the women is a photographer and the other is an exotic dancer. I immediately thought of Toni Ricci's Marble Arch as the perfect location for our session.
It was fun and rewarding for me as it became patently obvious that actors can act. One thing is to see them in a play but it is altogether more satisfying when they act just for you (for me). The actors Michelle Harrison (Alice seen here crying), Steve Griffith (Dan, kissing Anna), Kurt Max Runte (Larry, standing extremely jealous and watching Alice strip) Sarah Louse Turner (Anna, the photographer) were a professional bunch and more so as they had never yet rehearsed. Their first time together was there at the Marble Arch.
I asked Michelle Harrison to cry for me. She turned around and said, "Wait a moment," and then looked at me with a dispair that broke my heart and soon tears began to pour. Michelle Harrison is a professional, Hillary is an amateur. Hillary was genuine.
My Hilary cries
Jimmy Pattison's Cadillac & My Unwavering Principle Goes BustTuesday, January 08, 2008
Being a photographer is not always easy if one purports to have principles. Writers, too have a problem. In the early 80s Vancouver Magazine Malcolm Parry offered free lance writer Mark Budgen the plum job (in my opinion) of doing a profile on BC politician (and now to retire as senator a the end of this month). Budgen rejected the assignment citing a difference of opinion on political direction between Carney and himself. The man who took on the job (and I took the photographs) was, Bob Hunter the no less left leaning and co-founder of Greenpeace. While I respected Budgen's decision I thought he was nuts and then just a few years later in 1985 I made a similar "blunder". I was called by a PR minion of the Expo 86 Committee and told, "Mr. Pattison our World Exposition Chairman has chosen you to take his official portrait." I remember answering, "Madam I don't like the man so I will not take his picture." At the time there were several stories circulating about how ruthless the man was.
Just a few years after 1986 several Canadian business magazines assigned me to take Pattison's portrait. I explained to those who remembered my initial rejection of the man that in this case I was being assigned and therefore if I was going to remain in the good books of art directors who gave me work it was my duty to be professional.
My first situation with Pattison was to photograph his boat, at the time the Nova Springs for a photo essay I was doing on interesting BC ships and yachts. Getting an appointment with Pattison was easy and I was warned to be on time. He posed for me by his Hammond organ and explained that he was no sailor and that he liked his boat as a place for solitude and to tinker with his music which he enjoyed.
I was given all the opportunity to photograph the boat but I was amazed to see that the carpeting of the engine room was an off white and there was not a trace of oil on anything. The on board mechanic told me it was quite a job to keep the engine room spotless.
I photographed Pattison two more times, once for the Globe & Mail (the horizontal colour photograph) which shows Pattison's unusual taste for ties. My fave photograph I took for a private club brochure. I asked to see Pattison's office a day in advance and I proposed taking his picture holding his model Cadillac. I thought my request would be rejected. His executive secretary called me and told me that my request had been granted but that I would only have the man for three minutes.
Pattison respects efficiency. I began to understand that. He gave me his undevided attention for exactly three minutes. He thanked me for my punctuality and for my efficiency.
While I will not purport to understand that time is money nor do I see the point of amassing millions if not billions of dollars, I have a grudging respect for the man. Rebecca was most impressed when I told her on Sunday night at Dal Richard's party that he was Canada's richest man. I plan to invite both Rebecca and Mark Budgen for tea, soon. Between them they might set me straight.
Of Memory - Dal Richard's 90th - Legs Under The SteinwayMonday, January 07, 2008
Pensó que en la hora de la muerte no habría acabado aún de clasificar todos los recuerdos de la niñez.
He thought that in the hour of his death he would not have finished classifying the rembembrances of his childhood.
Funes El Memorioso
Jorge Luís Borges
I took Rebecca to the Orpheum yesterday for Dal Richard's 90th birthday bash. The Orpheum was a full house. Rebecca and I noted that there were only two other little girls in the audience. All there wanted to experience memories of their past. We were there for a different reason. I was there to give our first Vancouver-born member (on our side of the family) memories for her future. I looked around and pointed out people who reside in my files. "That blonde woman (sitting in front of us), she used to be readhaired, almost became the premier of our province, "I told Rebecca. During the intermission we ran into others from my files. I placed Rebecca in front of a very serious and large (not fat, just large) man and told her, "He's a politician. Ask him who he is, Rebecca." The very serious man (perhaps with a smile that I was not able to discern) said, "Rebecca, I am Garde Gardom, and I was more than a politician, I was the Lieutenant-Governor of this province." "See that little lapel flower, Rebecca?" ask him what it is. "This is the Order of British Columbia, Rebecca."
I introduced Rebecca to Jennifer and Christopher Gaze. Jennifer told her, "Rebecca we know you well because of your grandfather's blog."
We then spotted pianist Robert Silverman and I introduced him to Rebecca. He seemed to be pleased that one of Rebecca's piano teachers had been Nikolai Maloff. I explained to Rebecca that Silverman was going to play with another UBC pianist a series of Happy Birthday variations in honour of Dal Richards. But when Jimmy Pattison blew Happy Birthday on his trumpet and I told her that he was the richest man in Canada she was impressed.
But if anything the high moment for me happened when boogie woogie pianist Michael Kaeshammer played a solo piece. Just a few notes into it Rebecca looked at me and said, "Hymn to Freedom, Oscar Peterson."
Rebecca wanted to know more about Jim Byrnes who sang an unusual St Louis Blues accompanied by Dal Richard's Orchestra. On the piano was Diane Lines (she also sang very well and played a mean electric piano) who wore two little dresses (one blue, one red, both tight, one for each half of the concert). My binoculars (even though we were on the 10th row) were trained on Miss Lines's legs, the finest I have ever seen under a Steinway.
Of Byrnes I said, "Rebecca, Byrnes met your mother and aunt some 15 years ago and whenever I run into him he always asks, "How are Ale and Hilary?"
It all made me think about memory and how little I remember of when I was 10. Last night Rosemary and I caught the last hour of the 1948 John Wayne film The Wake of the Red Witch with the beautiful and mysterious looking Gail Russell. I soon realized what the ending was going to be.
Memory of seeing it with my mother suddenly came to me. Perhaps then there is a faint hope that Rebecca will remember some of our good times together. As Rebecca kept her autographed program of the night's performance close to her she asked me, "Why did Dal have two lapel buttons?" "That's because he also has an Order of Canada," I explained. Rebecca who watched part of the show with one eye closed (she wanted to know what it was like to have only one eye) then asked, "Why is Dal's artificial eye larger?" "You'll have to ask him one day, "I replied. But mine were not the last words. "When I am 20 Dal will be 100," Rebecca said with the confidence of youth.
Paul Hyde, The Payola$ & Bribing GodSunday, January 06, 2008
On Friday morning I was having coffee with my pal Ian Bateson in one of my favourite places in Vancouver. It happens to be the Starbucks inside the north end of Sears on Georgia and Granville. We were lucky to sit in the plush sofas and from our vantage point we could see the whole world (at least the Vancouver part) pass through. The ceiling thanks to the inspired (perhaps in only this section of his building) design of Argentine architect Cesar Pelli seems to go on forever in the closest attempt we may have in Vancouver to the idea of a Gothic cathedral's dimensions as they (the cathedral's dimensions) soar in search of God. Coming down the ramp was one very healthy and fit man I had photographed several times in my past. That he was still around is ample proof that God exists. That he is not rich and famous is ample proof that God, perhaps, does not exist.
Paul Hyde has to be one of Vancouver's best composers and singers. As lyricist he is up there in my pantheon of Vancouver passionates (as I really like to call them) Art Bergman.
And coincidenally it seems that Paul Hyde and and Ian Bateson both went to maternity/paternity classes together. Sadly I did not think to ask the name of Hyde's son (seen here some 25 years ago).
When I first photographed Paul Hyde and his band the Payola$ (yes that's $ and not an s) I was in my "I own this fantastic Pentax rectilinear 15mm wide angle lens. Little of the Payola$ shows in my photo which I took in 1980. At about that time they showed up at CBC variety show called Star Charts which we insiders (I was the stills man) called Star Farts. The producers, staff and, camera men including Mike Varga of the CBC where a bit on the sheltered side (particularly in the cavernous Studio 40)and were not prepared to see or listen to anything that was not mainstream rock and roll. When the Payola$ descended, accompanied by wives, hangers on and even babies (Paul Hyde told me, "They must have been Bob Rock's as he got started before we did,"). When the band left, the CBC crew looked shattered. I will never forget!
Later on, quite a few years later, I photographed a smoking Paul Hyde and this time I got closer and used George Hurrell type lighting including a deep green filter to show up that face.
But this last time, on Friday, Hyde was the very picture of slim health. He does not smoke anymore and the twinkle in his eyes might just tell me that he might soon prove me wrong and get very rich.
This blog will have Saturday January 5, 2008 as the date but it is wrong as this is being written the evening of January 6 when my website and blog was up again. The plug was pulled by Net Nation on Friday evening. Net Nation is the company I pay around $16.00 a year to keep my web page name from being used by my doppelgänger.
On January 1, I was invited to a New Years day afternoon gathering at Tim Bray's and his wife. I meant to ask him something that had been on my mind for weeks. The question was in reference to what kept my web page and blog up and or prevented its extinction. A lot has been said that anything you write on the net is there forever. Was this true?
Before the Christmas holidays Marni McLeod, one of the principals of Skunkworks had sent me a friendly letter informing me that while Skunkworks had designed both my web page and blog and hosted me for two years it was time to push me off the nest and I would have to renew my domain name. This I did (in early January, alas). But I never noticed that when I wrote British Columbia in the registration renewal form there was a little flag that said that only two initials were allowed (BC). I pressed send and that was the end of that. On Friday evening when my domain name had expired the folks at Net Nation pulled the plug.
I never really had to ask Tim Bray in the end how wrong the idea is that anything one writes on the net is forever.
What it means really is that just like in a photography one is nobody without a support staff such as Horst Wenzel one's website is utterly dependent on something as simple and "cheap" as the folks at Net Nation.
But also something I cannot forget are the good folks of Skunkworks including lawyer/writer/designer Doug Jasinski (seen above with his typewriter) and Chris Botting, who without me knowing, gave me exactly what I wanted in this web page and blog.
If I had only heeded Marni MCleod's advice to get on with it in December I would perhaps have asked Tim Bray the question, "How tenuous is my presence on the net?" and not believed a word he would have said.
Jack Williams - The Literary Tug Boat CookFriday, January 04, 2008
It was sometime in December, 1990, right after I photographed Jack Williams in a garage building a boat from scratch (he was the consumate craftsman) that I went to the Vancouver Magazine editor with the idea on a profile on Jack Williams. I was rebuffed with a terse, "He is a nobody. We are not interested." And that's how his negatives languished in my files until today as I read pages and pages of nobodies in today's Arts & Life section of my daily newspaper.
I felt a bit of rage reading (a glance, only a glance) about the latest trend in the top 10. This is, "Top 10 cool movies we're looking forward to in 2008". In defference to my literary friend and movie critic, I would give him a gun, before banishing every movie critic in town to a desert island. "And then there was one," John Lekich, I would hope.
For at least two decades my friends (including John Lekich) and I held a weekly (Thursdays) lunch at Vancouver's The Railwayman's Club (a.k.a. The Railway Club). Food was plain, almost inconsequential to compensate for the rich conversation. We conversed (now that chatting has that other dreadful meaning, converse will do wonderfully). Not being yet that famous (they), we conversed with William Gibson and Evelyn Lau. Buck Cherry was not quite John Armstrong and exotic dancers from the nearby Hotel St. Regis sometimes slummed at our table. My ritual was pouring a small glass of Tio Pepe into my soup. Most of us have scattered here and there and we sometimes meet at the club. The food is very much better but the conversation, dutifully nostalgic is not quite in the realm of conversation.
One man who would appear, every once in a while was Jack Williams. If there was some way of defining the man in a short sentence we would say, "He is the father of Vancouver starlet Barbara Williams." It was only around 1993 that we would have added, "and she is married to Tom Hayden."
But there was much more to Jack Williams. His face was a blend of Spencer Tracy, William Faulkner and Dashiell Hammett. His face was the kind of face you might see at the end of a steep climb on a mountain, you know, your cliché guru.
Williams fancied beer and tomato juice and on some days you might have suspected that he had breakfasted early with such a concoction. His voice was almost pure diction with only a hint of a slur. He would look at you with that permanent little smile of his eyes and would begin, "I read this thing in Harper's..."
Williams had been in logging camps and one of his many jobs was of cook on a tug boat and a logging barge. When he didn't cook he read or conversed with such friends as logging poet Peter Trower whom he called, "Pete."
My favourite Williams quality was his placidity. He made me relax. The world was just fine. And if it wasn't, it would soon be. Except for once.
We were visited one Thursday by sex crimes cop Steve Pranzl. Williams developed a instant liking for the handsome policeman. I could see the gleem in Williams's eyes and I could see what was coming. I didn't know what to do until Pranzl told us he had to make a call and got up. As soon as he was gone I whispered to Williams, "Don't offer him that special weed of yours, he's a cop."
Williams died sometime in the late 90s.
History used to be taught in periods which stressed the salient civilizations of a particular time, in isolation from others that may have been around, in decline or in upward development. It is only recently that civilizations have been taught in relation to others.
In much the same way it is easy to fall into the trap of looking at Vancouver's own history in a didactic, "it started here and ended here" sort of way. We also look at history in a neat and mathematically comforting decimal system of centuries and decades. Occasionally there are some great personalities that thwart that system For example there is Graham Greene who spanned Edwardian times and yet flew at supersonic speeds on the Concorde. People such as Greene teach us to look at history in a not so neat but ever so much more itneresting way. Such is the case of our very own Dal Richards who celebrates his 90th birthday with a big bash concert at the Orpheum on January 6.
Much like I have written here how one of our national flag designers, Patrick Reid can often be seen strolling in Kerrisdale, Dal Richards is a walking-history-lesson of what has happened (and is happening) in Vancouver while he has been around (and is around). This is specially true as Richards has a prodigious memory and an unwavering interest in the affairs of our city. Recently, while driving him (after having a chat in his apartment on Beatty Street) to a movie date with his wife Muriel, Richards pointed out buildings that had disappeared and noticed new ones and how they affected traffic. He told me he wanted to go on a long cruise and come back after the Canada Line was finished and the 2010 Olympics were over. "The traffic, downtown, might just be manageable then," he said.
Bob Mercer, the editor/art director of VLM (Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine) is keen on not only saluting our walking history lessons but also helping those who might not know about them to appreciate them through profiles in his magazine. A recent one featured my photograph and my short profile on Dal Richards. Here is the copy that accompanied the photograph above.
Ral Richards, 89, is one very stylish Vancouver gentleman. His wife Muriel says, "Dal wears a tuxedo like a mechanic wears overalls. He looks comfortable in it. On cruise ships, others look like stuffed penguins." Richards says, "I dress the way a bandleader should dress."
Richards lost an eye when he was 8. His parents put him into the Kitsilano Boys Band as a recuperative therapy. He played a clarinet sold to them by George Leach, the bassoon player of the Vancouver Symphony. Leach also played in dance bands but had to sell the clarinet t suppor his family.
Richards, whose long-running Dal's Place airs on 600AM, Saturdays, 6 to 7 p.m., and Sundays, 9 to 10 p.m., has just released a new CD with his band. Of special note is Jim Byrnes singing "Blues in the Night," a tango version of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" with young Vancouver singer Bria Skonberg and a killer version of "As Time Goes By" sung by Richards himself.
© 2007 VLM/Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Nite Dreems With A Blonde & BrunetteWednesday, January 02, 2008
In 1972 photographer Robert Frank temporarily retired his Leica to produce, direct and film a documentary of the Rollings Stones on tour called Cocksucker Blues. Scenes of the Stones shooting up in a hotel room assured that this film has rarely been seen by anybody as the Stones imposed restrictions on when and where Cocksucker Blues could be viewed. Unless you have been able to buy or see a bootleg version your only chances are to go to Robert Frank retrospective (it was one at Presentation House quite a few years ago where I saw the film for my first time). One of the groupies in the film is a relatively unknown eyeglass wearing Annie Leibovitz. Cocksucker Blues pioneered everything that is considered normal now in MTV. MTV was a phenomenon when it began to broadcast in 1980 and by then few remembered Frank's contribution. Even fewer would remember Vancouver's.
It all started with a couple of men, one short and one tall. The short one, J.B. Shayne had many monickers including the one important to our story, Raouel Casablanca. The tall one, "Long"John Tanner, managed to drive his wife's Mini in spite of his 6'4" frame.
These two attached themselves to a decidedly uncool (he played jazz drums on the side) but supportive producer, Don Fraser (a.k.a. Mr. Tasty, wearing a white hat in the photographs here). The three hired two beauts, one a blonde, Deborah Jarvi and the other a brunette, Susanne Tabata. Their program, Nite Dreems went on the air on Cable 10 (at the time Cable 10 was at the foot of Cambie and Marine Drive).
Nite Dreems featured very early music videos including the Modernette's Barbra which to this day looks and sounds as fresh as it did in 1980. While Barbra was done with no budget (free I have been told) the folks at Nite Dreems managed with a very low one helped by Don Fraser's frugal habits. Connoisseurs of the active punk movement in Vancouver, of the incoming New Wave and other music that was off the charts and not on AM or FM watched Nite Dreems. They also might have enjoyed the skits and the humour. My reasons for watching it were more mundane. For me it was all about the blonde and the brunette.
Today Is Tomorrow Because Your Today Was My YesterdayTuesday, January 01, 2008
New Years is so much about time and clocks striking 12. This year Rosemary called me on her way home (last night) to tell me she was going to stop for grapes. Eating 12 grapes as the clock begins to strike midnight is supposed to be good luck in Spain and the custom has been in my family all these years. Safeway had no grapes and Rosemary did not think about trying a corner fruit store. Most Spaniards would say it is a lot easier to eat those 12 grapes in the form of brandy or Champagne. We did none of those things and retired for the night. Midnight found Rosemary asleep and me finishing Reginald Hill's Death Comes For The Fat Man. And, no, I will not reveal here if Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel (pronounced Deel) indeed dies.
I have written here about how Rebecca (when she stays for the night on Saturdays) is confused when I show her Sunday's (delivered at 9pm on Saturday night) New York Times. So I called her up last night at 9pm and told her that according to my New York Times it was Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at our home. It had to be the case, I insisted as it was clearly printed on the newspaper. I further confused her by telling her, "It's today here because tomorrow is today and your today was my yesterday." At that point my ever practical but still confused Rebecca said, "You should stop getting that silly paper."
The pictures here I took of Rosemary some 39 years ago in Mexico City. For anybody reading this I wish you a feliz y próspero año nuevo.