No Tricks - All TreatFriday, October 31, 2008
From the first blush of romance, to moments of turmoil and solitude, to a superhuman effort to revive what has been lost, a couple who has been “around the block” discover that nothing stays the same forever.
The full length Around the Block is a choreography inspired by New York City, a city rife with urban turmoil. The collision of architectural styles, the collision of cultures and the collision of people will inspire an energetic dance work that delves deep into the inner workings of an urban centre. Four characters will discover their place within this metropolis of strangers.
Yesterday afternoon I watched four beautiful and fit dancers dance for one hour. I was so close (in the Vancouver Dance Centre) I could hear the dancers gasping for air. I had been here before, last December. The work had progressed. Helesic explained how each segment (four representing 42nd Street, 5th Avenue, Central Park and Broadway in New York City) would be preceded by four separate three and a half minute films shot either from a car on a bicycle of these streets or locations. Watching Day Helesic, centre left, Amber Funk Barton, bottom right, Shay Kuebler, top left and Josh Martin, bottom left, felt almost like a private pleasure. And I will share, this, with you.
What I saw yesterday you can see today from 4 to 5 at the Scotia Vancouver Dance Centre from 4 to 5 for free. You will get one hour of intense cutting edge modern dance up front.
Cyrano De Bergerac, Frida Kahlo & A Cure For All DiseasesThursday, October 30, 2008
One of my favourite British mystery writers is Reginal Hill and in his latest, A Cure for All Diseases his fat Yorkshire Detective Superintendent is convalescing from an almost terminal bomb explosion in the resort coast town of Sandytown. The novel is loosely baced in Jane Austen's unfinished last novel (1817) Sanditon. Hill's novel, like Austen's , experimentints with the practical ideas of communication through gossip. Two sisters email each other in alternating chapters. Reginald Hill is a master in the correctness and the infinite intricacies of the English language. I read Hill knowing at the very least that I will be reading a mystery novel that is literature, too. The fun I have reading Hill leaves me with no escapist guilt.
Being over 60, my knowledge of who or what Cyrano de Bergerac is, is "far more" extensive than that of someone under 30. I read the 1951 Classics Illustrated, and had literature professors drone on and on as I slept in class. And to top that I saw the 1950 Michael Gordon Cyrano de Bergerac with José Ferrer as Cyrano. I was 10. My parents had lured me into seeing it by me by telling me it featured espadachines or sword fighters and lots of sword fights. All I remember is Ferrer's voice, his long nose and the brilliant Technicolor. Alas of the third I am wrong as the film was released only in b&w!
Minutes into last night's premier performance at the Stanley of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand and directed, translated and adapted into English by James Fagan Tait I was perplexed and initially put off by Cyrano uttering stuff in contemporary English like "pal".
While listening to the dialogue (and laughing lots) I thought about Reginald Hill's A Cure For All Diseases. In the email communication between the two gossiping sisters I had noted that Hill had eliminated quotation marks and there were all kinds of typos. "Can it be, that his novel was rushed to the printers which poor typo correcting?" I thought. Then it dawned on me that Hill was using contemporary writing and injecting a bit of what Austen had first tried to inject in her unfinished novel. Austen, Hill and now James Faigan Tait where on the same map for me. As Faigan Tait notes in the program:
In its day, the play was fresh, spoke like the people and sounded like comic improvised verse and because of that it shocked people with its presence in each moment despite its glamorous period context.
With this in mind, welcome to 17th-century Paris of this very moment. Don't be surprised if the people in that time look and sound a little bit like us right now.
I quickly forgot the anachronistic language and gloried at seeing the elaborate costumes (Nancy Bryant) and listening to beautiful musical accompaniment (Joleysa Pankanea and Mark Haney) and songs of this play.
While watching Chilean-born Carmen Aguirre (above left) appears in many roles. As a Duenna she seems to have a future career as an imposing and scary mother-in-law (a distinct possibility as she has a young son), as a nun she would have soon caused any mother superior to commit suicide and as an orange seller she was most convincing as a perveyor of other more sexy delights. But it was her moustache as a cadet that nagged my brain.
It came to me as I was driving home with Rosemary. In February 2000 Aguirre had appeared on that same stage (the Stanley) as Frida Kahlo in a one actor show that was one I will never forget. Her performance was convincing and her makeup, costume and moustache (fake?) were so good that she seemed to be channeling Kahlo before my very eyes.
With that confusion finally solved I remembered a young man sitting behind me in last night's performance who said to his companion, "So this is the Stanley?" Somehow this play had brought that young man to enjoy, perhaps for the first time, the delight of theatre. I plan to return with my granddaughter Rebecca (now 11) and see if she gets a bit more than I did back then in 1951.
"Yes, it is perfect. Your white gown swathed in the blue-black mantle of night. I am only a voice, and you are a point of light. I may have spoken Beautifully to you in the past--"
When Rebecca sees the beautiful and glamorous Roxanne (Melissa Poll) she might be as fascinated as I was when she glowed as much as Cyrano's starry sky.
Kay Alsop's FriendWednesday, October 29, 2008
In 1987 Kay Alsop was a YWCA Woman Of Distinction. A few years later, probably 1992, the YWCA decided to publish a magazine with portraits of some of the past winners. I took those portraits and one of them was the most gracious and lovely former fashion writer for the Province, Kay Alsop. I had met her a few times before in the Vancouver Sun/Province newsroom and I came to the conclusion that Alsop prevented the really styless Province from being so. I felt like going to her and saying, "How can a classy gal like you work in a place like this?"
When I met her at her home for her photos she told me she loved her white camellia. This would mean that I must have taken the pictures in early spring of 1992. Malcolm Parry had been a columnist for the Vancouver Sun for about a year. I asked her about him. Kay Alsop smiled at me with that beautiful smile of hers and said, "Mac will turn off the lights at the Sun."
Wasserman's Beat & Vancouver's Short MemoryTuesday, October 28, 2008
Sometime in the early 90s a few signs were put up on the lamposts on Hornby Street near the area of Dunsmuir and Georgia. The signs said Wasserman's Beat and by then Vancouver's memory was working as usual (we seem to have a short memory). As I have written here before, someone's face appears on the Vancouver Sun with the caption "crook" and a few years later that "crook" returns to Vancouver and becomes a successful developer, gallery owner and or stock promoter. Nobody remembers.
Jack Wasserman was certainly no crook. He was an influential columnist with the Vancouver Sun until the day he died of a heart attack, an evening on April 6, 1977. He was speaking at the Hotel Vancouver during a roast for Gordon Gibson Jr. While I cannot confirm her presence then, I would suspect that Valerie Gibson was there. She was the wife of Gordon Gibson Jr. who was the Liberal Leader for BC. Valerie Gibson would have been there since Gibson Sr. was her father-in-law. She was not yet the successful gossip columnist for Vancouver Magazine. Had she been working by then, the savvy editor Mac Parry would have dispatched her to write about it. During his editorship of Vancouver he made sure his magazine infromed readers the activities of City Hall, on Provincial politics, and the relative health and effectiveness of our newspapers and our TV and radio stations. In those years, the 70s, 80s and early 90s Vancouver Magazine was truly a city magazine that reported on urban affairs. It was often that I would read in the Vancouver Sun articles (even written by political columnists) who quoted writers from articles in the magazine.
Wasserman came to Vancouver in 1935 at age 8. He dropped out of law school to take a reporter's job with Ubyssey. He graduated from UBC (1949)and then joined the Vancouver Sun, becoming a police reporter. His biggest scoop was the sordid death of Errol Flynn in a West End apartment. Wasserman was a longtime gossip and self-described "saloon reporter" columnist. He was fired by the Sun (1967) for hosting a radio show but was rehired 18 months later.
Wasserman's society and celebrity columns and occasional political analyses wrote up the often-lurid details of the wild heyday, glitter and sleaziness of the Vancouver nightlife and society whirl in the 1950s and 1960s when famous dinner clubs such as The Cave and Isy's attracted big names from around the world. The power of his column was neither diminished nor magnified by the fact that it rarely ran with pictures. It was an age of the written word not the heard word or "seen" word.
Malcolm Parry at Vancouver Magazine realized the importance of good gossip and had hired Valerie Gibson for the job. In those early columns by Gibson (perhaps late 70s and early 80s) I was dispatched by Parry to take the photographs for her column. At the height of her popularity her column was the most read column of Vancouver Magazine.
So in the early 90s the city decided to tip it's hat in Wasserman's memory and established a few blocks of Hornby as Wasserman's Beat. Both the Cave and the several generations of Gary Taylor's establishments had been on that street. Some reader had sent an enquiry to Vancouver Magazine on why the street had the signs. I was sent to take pictures from which one would be used on the last page of the magazine to explain what Wasserman's Beat was all about.
In 1991 Malcolm Parry had worked as editor for just about every decent magazine in Vancouver and for one in Toronto called Vista. He was out of a job. It was during this period that he told me that he had a solution for his unemployment and that he was excited about it. He told me of his admiration for Wasserman and how Wasserman has established a style in his genre. Parry emphasized to me Wasserman's style. It even seems that he himself (Parry) had been present at Gordon Gibson's roast when Wasserman had suddenly collapsed. Shortly after telling me Parry emerged as the gossip columnist for the Vancouver Sun.
His Town Talk column is sometimes obscure and only those who know him know of his inside jokes and comments. I like Town Talk because of that! He often cites a particular Vancouver economist as the "early rising ..." It all has to do with Parry having entered a magazine office one early morning and catching the early riser on top of a woman, on top of a desk. He once told me, "I want him to know that I know. I don't want him to forget that."
And of course there is Parry's talent for photography particularly his interest in beautiful women and particularly in those who are beautifully endowed, too.
Looking for a possible random subject for today's blog I surfed my W,X,Y,Z file and found these slides of Wasserman's Beat. I had forgotten about them. But when I spot the sign on Hornby I always remember the night that I patiently tried to take pictures of it from every angle possible. I think that few might remember who Wasserman was and perhaps in some not so distant future someone will dispatch a photographer to take a picture at a corner (where would that be?) that will have a sign that says Parry's Beat.
Poor Vancouver with its poor memory.
I wrote to Malcom Parry to see if he could kindly check for inaccuracies. Here is his reply:
I wasn't at the Gordon Gibson Sr. roast. Valerie was, sitting alongside
or near Wasserman.
The early rising event was witnessed not by me but by ..., the .......
paste-up artist at ....Magazine.
I believe Jack was fired when he would not give up a CJOR show he had taken
during one of the lengthy strikes the newspapers endured then.
When did Valerie begin her column with you?
Her first appearance was with the Faraway Places column for March, 1977.
She wrote about Maui, where clan Gibson had the Maui Lu compound and hotel.
Jack Wasserman wrote about Hawaii for the same column in September, 1976.
Faraway Places became Garry Marchant's sole preserve in September, 1978.
Valerie took over the City Seen column from Terry Zacks in the November,
Two Dogs Called Lulu & Rebecca Haunts HalloweenMonday, October 27, 2008
When Lauren saw Rebecca's photograph with the pollarded Hawthorne behind her she told me, "Rebecca looks haunted. Why didn't you photograph me haunted?" I really could not explain to her that she was much to cute with her dog Lulu to look haunted. The girls then looked at the pictures before I selected the three you see here. And I heard some shouting. It got ugly! It seems that Rebecca also has a toy dog called Lulu. I asked Rebecca if I had ever photographed her with Lulu but she did not answer. I have photographed Rebecca with most of her stuffed toys including her erstwhile favourite Lilly the cat. I simply could not recall a Lulu. The fighting continued and I may have added wood to the fire. It was interesting how Lauren, 6, held her own as Rebecca, 11, increasingly became more agitated.
I asked again about Lulu and this time I understood. Rebecca has a Nintendo DS (that stands for double screen) Lite. She nagged and nagged and between allowance, etc she bought her "DS box". When Rebecca misbehaves her mother punishes her by taking away her DS box privileges. Rebecca knows (because I told her) that I call it the DSB and that DSB stands for Dumb Sh.. Box. I have watched the game in use. It features (I believe it varies depending on which cartridge you use) three or four(?)little dogs that Rebecca makes beg, sit, run and rollover on demand with her voice. One of the dogs is a beagle called Lulu.
Rebecca immediately answered when I told her that one dog was virtual and the other real, "No, one, is stuffed." Rebecca accepted that I would write this blog about the conflict in what seemed to be resigned silence. Rosemary seems to think that Lauren has robbed Rebecca's virtual dog of its identity.
Lauren looked at every transparency (6x7cm transparencies) with my light box and correctly mastered the use of the lupe. She always wants me to get her a bench to stand on so she can look through the viewfinder of my Mamiya. Could this be possible? Will there be another photographer in the family? As she left Rebecca gave me a sweet kiss. There is a strong possibility she might pose for me again for some sort of Halloween photograph.
Social Photographers & St Swithun Scents Up My AfternoonSunday, October 26, 2008
While I have always enjoyed taking photographs of people I have never been keen on the social photographers like Lewis Hine, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Perhaps I have seen their pictures too many times. Or perhaps I admire photographers who are more versatile like Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White. Today I had one of those days where I had to go through my many photo books looking for photographs of social photographers, scanning them and then putting them into a CD in a narrative order. It quickly became evident that social photography is a much wider spectrum than I thought. Photographers like Baron de Meyer and Steichen photographed fashion as high fashion in high society. Bert Stern photographed fashion more down to earth and Irving Penn took his portable studio to New Guinea to photograph Asaro Mudmen in 1970. So even fashion photographers are social photographers in their own right. In the end I looked at Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine and Walker Evans with refreshed eyes. In my class tomorrow at Van Arts where I will teach the segment Social Photographers to my History of Photography students I will do my best to pass on my new enthusiasm.
Rebecca came for her piano lesson early today. When she was through at 10 I told her I wanted to photograph her outside with a Hydrangea aspera 'Villosa' flower on her head with the pollarded Hawthorne behind her. I was subjected to lots of negative palaver and some mild shouting but in the end I got my way. Lauren arrived in the afternoon at 4. She was a lot more cooperative. I photographed both Rebecca and Lauren with colour transparency. I will post these photos in tomorrow's blog.
As I was packing my equipment and my light I got a whiff of that complex myrrh scent that could only come from an English Rose. In spite of the cold and last night's frost there was Rosa 'St Swithun' with one flower completely open bechoning me to sniff and cut. Here she is above.
Pollarding The Hawthorne As One Declines From Fullness To Old AgeSaturday, October 25, 2008
Sometimes Spanish sounds that much more poetic. Consider the definition for autumn in my on line RAE (Real Academia Española) dictionary.
otoño.(Del lat. autumnus).
1. m. Estación del año que, astronómicamente, comienza en el equinoccio del mismo nombre y termina en el solsticio de invierno.
2. m. Época templada del año, que en el hemisferio boreal corresponde a los meses de septiembre, octubre y noviembre, y en el austral a la primavera del hemisferio boreal.
3. m. Segunda hierba o heno que producen los prados en la estación del otoño.
4. m. Período de la vida humana en que esta declina de la plenitud hacia la vejez.
Real Academia Española © Todos los derechos reservados
It is definition 4 which states that autumn is that period in human existence in which it declines from fullness towards old age.
This is a picture of my principal hosta bed on the southern side of our garden. I took it three weeks ago when autumn was setting in. The bed is more collapsed now and the colours are more vivid.
Rosemary and I cut off all the new top growth of our old Hawthorn tree. This is a terrible job as I must wear glasses, gloves and try not to stab myself with all the nasty thorns. Our ladder is rickity and Rosemary has to hold it so I won't fall.
It must have been some 6 or 7 years ago that I was doing this job on my own in late November. Rosemary was inside. The ladder shifted and I fell off. By some quirk of slow motion my body remained suspended in the air while it waited for the ladder to settle horizontally under it. Once that had happened I fell neatly on it on my chest. I could not breathe and I gasped for air. My neighbour heard me and called the ambulance. When the attendants brought in the stretcher I saw death in the face and rapidly got up (in pain) and demanded to walk into the ambulance. They took me to UBC Emergency with no siren as I had asked for it as a special request. The doctor told me that he had no way of telling me if I indeed had any broken ribs as none were sticking out of my chest. He bandaged my chest up. It was only then that I called Rosemary to come and get me. She was very surprised as she had not heard the ambulance and had not seen me taken away.
Perhaps it is guilt or something else, but I now have the pleasure of doing a nasty job with good company. And today it was a glorious day to pollard our Hawthorne.
Scalloped Potatoes, Carla Temple & Comfort FoodFriday, October 24, 2008
I can recall so many moments in my life when someone has told me, "Get to the point, Alex!" or "Get to it. What is it that you want to say." The beauty of a personal blog is that nobody can tell me to get to the point and I can meander in whatever direction I want. This one is going to be a meandering one.
Last night we had the granddaughters for dinner. We then watched a film with John Taw, Goodnight Mr. Tom and then the girls stayed on for a sleepover. This is always most pleasant even though I am relegated to Hilary's old bedroom. My female cat Plata finds Rosemary, two little girls and Rosemary's male cat, Toby, much too much company for one bed so she accompanies me for the evening. As I tried to sleep I remembered that Rosemary had served her famous (in our family) scalloped potatoes and Rebecca had commented, "Isn't it nice to have comfort food?"
Before Rosemary had arrived that afternoon with the girls I had turned on the TV to channel 46 to get some of 2001: A Space Odyssey which was advertised on the Turner Classics Channel. It is one of those mysteries and often annoying changes of contemporary life that TCM will modify its programming without notice and without explanation. What was on was the 1968 film The Shoes of the Fisherman with Anthony Quinn, Oskar Werner, John Gielgud (the dying and dead pope), Leo McKern, David Jannsen, Laurence Olivier (as head of the Soviet Union speaking an impecable Thames/Russian accent) and the surprising joy of seeing Vittorio De Sica as a wise Italian cardinal.
The reviews of this film based on Morris West's 1963 novel by the same name were not good. I had read the novel and at the time, except for some rare exception most popes had always been Italian. West's novel, in which a Russian is made pope, shocked those of us who went to church and even those who didn't. I had not yet read (I read it in 1965) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man so I was unaware that Oskar Werner's role as a possibly schismatic young intellectual priest may have been based on Chardin's life. I enjoyed the book right after my mother had read it and passed it on. I had never bothered to see the film.
I was fascinated. Director Michael Anderson had good access to the Vatican and the scenes with all the pomp of the conclave and the cardinals that were sequestered to pick a new pope is superb. More than anything I became aware that the film was like Rosemary's scalloped potatoes. The pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church with all the mystery of Holy Mass (in Latin), the lore and history of Christian art in architecture, sculpture, literarture and painting has been a rich part of the stuff in my brain that I find delight in. The vacuum left by my rejection of it all has left me hungry for something that the recent restoration of the Guggenheim or the building of another Frank Gehry museum in some obscure part of the world will not satisfy. No matter how pleased I may feel about understanding and appreciating the contemporary art of the German artist Gerhard Richter, it does not fill my neuronic stomach for long.
Perhaps I am like my friend John Lekich who glories in the enjoyment of good films from the past and who reads the books that he knows (almost in advance, perhaps by some sort of literary scent and taste buds) will please him. I need comfort food. This afternoon I saw the 1973 baseball film Bang the Drum Slowly with Michael Moriarity and a tobbacco chewing Robert De Niro. It didn't take me long to agree with John Lekich that this is the best of all the baseball films ever made.
Why is my photograph of body builder Carla Temple (taken in 1985) illustrating this blog? The connection could be slim. I read today a review by Kathering Monk in the Vancouver Sun of Jonathan Demme's film Rachel Getting Married in which Monk writes:
Shot in high-definition digital video with little or no apparent artificial light...
This statement explains how the possible gritty look of Rachel Getting Married may approach and or resemble all those style less and uniform images found in Flickr, Myspace, etc. There will be even fewer films with classic Hollywood lighting of the 30s and 40s. In our approaching depression they want to please us, placate us with ugly reality.
Carla Temple's photograph reflects a time when magazines (films, too?) searched for visual excellence as well as a literary one. I remember art director Chris Dahl's instructions on the taking of this photograph ( Vancouver Magazine, October 1985), "Make her photo heroic."
We have had a Polish pope, a German pope and no baseball film to supplant Banging the Drum Softly. What's left? - Rosemary's scalloped potatoes and perhaps an invitation to John Lekich to share some more comfort food.
Addendum: David Jannsen's performances in the TV series The Fugitive (1963- 1967) were extremly popular in Mexico. Mexicans liked his "dark good looks". Episode 12 was called the Glass Tightrope. The whole series was dubbed into Spanish and re-named En La Cuerda Floja which means on a loose rope. I will never understand how the concept of a tightrope translates as a loose rope in Spanish. Richard Tuggle's 1984 film with Clint Eastwood, Tightrope was called En La Cuerda Floja in Spanish.
Harry Redl is a photographer who probably does not take any pictures anymore. Perhaps he might even be older that I am. He was a photographer who shot for Life. I would run into him in photographic exhibitions 5 to 8 years ago and then that distance between his home in West Vancouver and my own seemed to feel wider and wider and I lost contact. To this day I feel guilty I never accepted his invitations to visit him. The Harry Redl I knew always dressed beautifully and he spoke with enthusiam, intelligence and class.
On the night before Sunday June 29th (I received my Sunday New York Times. It does so around 9pm)I was astounded by the full page photograph on the cover of the literary magazine. It was a portrait of American poet Frank O'Hara. Underneath the picture there was the date 1959 and the name Harry Redl. Here is the picture that so arrested my attention. Part of the unusual look of it comes from the fact that Redl used a Rolleiflex with a waist lever finder so that angle is low.
Looking for some link to Harry Redl I found this. The essay is written by David Morton. David Morton is an extremely fine writer. In 1988 David Morton and I went to New York City. We both agreed we didn't like musicals but liked theatre. We saw Jason Robards and Blythe Danner in A Streetcar Named Desire. It was then that I found out about Morton's love of photography. It was with him that I first saw at MOMA those sensual photographs of Ellen Morton (sheer coincidence, that name!) in her wet and very tight bathing suit taken by Alfred Stieglitz at Lake George ca 1914. The picture here is from the University of Virginia Art Museum.
Bachelor's Buttons, Family Albums & The Battle Of ShilohWednesday, October 22, 2008
I read this article in the Vancouver Sun on Monday which began as follows:
Memories in the digital age
Photo albums are becoming a thing of the past
Kim Gray, Canwest News Service
Published: Monday, October 20, 2008
On the topic of family photo albums and after the topic of family photo albums and after the birth of her second child, one woman said it best. "I don't know what I should do," lamented the sleep-deprived mom, only half joking. "Should I create another beautiful album for my second child, or just throw out the one I made for my first born?"
The article hit home even though I have been affected less by the digital age (I still shoot film) but more so by the concept of not having enough time. Both our daughters have their individual photo albums (very large and handsomel, custom bound in Mexican leather) which began with their birth in Mexico City in 1968 and 1971 and and petered out (lots of blank black pages left) sometime in the beginning of the 80s. I consolidated both Rosemary and my family album into one but it also ends at the same time as Ale and Hilary's. Since then I have put pictures in boxes but I have kept the negatives and their corresponding contact sheets in my files under FAMILY. Some of the better photographs of my daughters and of my granddaughters have found their way into large prints in nice frames hanging in our home. In most cases I make double copies of the framed ones that are on our own walls.
The Vancouver Sun article mentions that grandparents have the time to continue family albums. This is partially true. The white writing (with a white ink fountain pen) in the Mexico section of our family albums was done by my mother until she died. As a photographer I am much too busy trying to make ends meet to find the time to be on a cruise ship with Rosemary and to organize the family albums. That will not happen and it is a shame.
It is less of shame when I consider that the concept of a family album has always spanned at the most three generations. After I die most of the pictures of my grandparents and their relatives will mean nothing to my grandchildren. They will mean no more, and probably much less than the face of a Union soldier staring out of a Matthew Brady photograph taken at the battlefield of Shiloh. That is the way it is and more so when I reflect on the content of Julian Barnes's nothing to be frightened of. Attempting to assure some sort of posterity is a false sense of immortality.
I don't believe in the false one or the possible real one. But I enjoy looking at the first picture of Ale with my granddaughter Lauren which I took a couple of weeks ago in Lillooet. The blue Bachelor's Buttons grew from seeds that Rosemary gave to Ale. Looking at Ale with the little blond Lauren made me go to search not only in the family albums but also in the large loose photo box. It was in the latter that I found a print taken with a Polaroid SX-70 camera in 1975 when Hilary, the little blond girl was as old as Lauren is now in the above first picture with Ale who is now 40. The third picture is of my daughters taken at about the same time at Queen Elizabeth Park.
I went to my garage for some firewood last night. I saw that there was a light. That seemed strange as the connection to my garage has not worked for the last ten years. I was puzzled. I found this creature leaning against the back wall and all he said was, "Ternes, radix, ternes, radix" over and over. I ran back for my camera. When I returned he had not moved.
Perpetual Motion At The Kay Meek CentreMonday, October 20, 2008
On Friday Rosemary and I went to the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver and saw Karen Jamieson Dance in a 25 year anniversary performance of Jamieson's groundbreaking Sisyphus. We also saw the world premiere Of Agon with dancers Ron Stewart and Brian Solomon. This work had music composed by John Korsud and Cris Derksen. While dancer/choreographer Byron Chief-Moon may have been an inspiration for Agon (with contribution by Ron Stewart) the final choreography we saw was Jamieson's. In some way I have written about most of these performers and of the works:
As Rosemay showed visible anxiety at the intensity of Jamieson's works I thought of a couple of things. For one Rebecca, our granddaughter has seen much more dance than Rosemary and as a dancer she would have appreciated the heavy duty movements that seemed non stop or involved carrying for long periods of time. The music of Agon was demanding but pleasant to me because I am a fan of Cris Derksen and her music but people of the 21st century are still uncomfortable with music that has little melody. If you play them music by Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg or Anton Webern they might leave the room even if you tell them that the music is almost 100 years old.
Feeling Rosemary's discomfort as I enjoyed it all made me think and wonder how people took Jamieson's Sisyphus 25 years ago. Even today it seems to be (to use that perennial baseball term) out from left field. I found the work as I saw it on Friday as modern as anything and more so than most contemporary work.
Consider the fax machine. Here you will find out that the fax machine (state of the art in my home back in 1987) was invented in 1843!
Jamieson's works, timelessly cutting edge, are like that fax machine of mine which scanned my 11x14 b+w prints and which helped me obtain work by whisking them to magazine art directors to peruse.
As I have written here before Jamieson's choreography seems to me (from the isolation of living in BC and not knowing what other choreographers may be doing in other provinces) the only one that incorporates extensive elements of Native Canadian dance, art and myths and does it so in a contemporary mixture that pushes it forward as an exciting new medium. While I can tolerate and even enjoy native dance performance at the Museum of Anthropology I feel that Jamieson's brand expands, unlocks and rejuvenates it. While my point of view is obviously based on my ignorance, more than anything, I believe the the Museum of Anthropology form is native dance performance set in stone.
Jamieson is not the only liberator. I revel at watching Byron Chief-Moon's solo performances and some of his choreography that I have seen in Bravo. And this Rennaisance is not only happening in dance. It is happening in music with Cris Derksen, with exciting Native Canadian opera singers like Clarence Logan and Melody Mercredi , in theatre with playwrights like Kevin Loring and in art with the funny, contemporary Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. I believe that the Vancouver Opera's traveling and very Native Canadian costumed Magic Flute by Mozart is another harbinger of things to come.
I think that eventually Rosemary will come around and meanwhile I will enjoy the memory of Jamison's past performances with the good news that her oncoming project The Sysyphus Project (found here)which will give me the opportunity to revisit her past while enjoying fresh new and demanding new works.
Two other works delighted me. One was Solo From Chaos which featured dancer Darcy McMurray (with strong and shapely thighs to die for) on a ladder and percussion musician Joseph "Pepe" Danza on the microphone. The other was Man Withina work that I had seen before danced by the same performers Caroline Farquar and Brian Solomon. Since the very tall (and soft-spoken and very sweet) Farquar had to carry Solomon for most of the performance I repeated my Karen Jamieson joke to Rosemary.
The phone rings (you are a dancer). You answer it. It is Karen Jamieson. You instantly hang up. You do not want to carry someone for a great length of time, have someone step on you or to be expected to dance like a perpetual motion machine.
My only two regrets on Friday were that I did not see either Jay Hirabayashi or Byron Chief-Moon, seen above, top left, with Karen Jamieson. It made the evening almost perfect, but not quite.
That Jamieson's The Sisyphus Project was first seen at West Van's dazzling Kay Meek Centre is a coup and a shame for Vancouver in not grabbing it first.
A 24-Year-Old Kenmore, Piazzolla & The Romance Of AppliancesSunday, October 19, 2008
Damascino Vasquez, the Filipino appliance repairman from Sears inspected our ailing 24-year-old Kenmore washer a few days ago and told me it could not really be fixed. He took the back apart and pointed at the clutch mechanism that he said was not working and at both at what looked like nasty oil leaks and some water leaks. "It's dead. You have had good service from it. Retire it." If I had not seen those oil leaks and water leaks I would not have believed him.
Yesterday Rosemary and I went to Sears and bought the cheapest Kenmore we could find. There were cheaper units but this one happened to be a floor model. It will be delivered on Thursday. And meanwhile what do we do? Use the old Kenmore, that's what we will do and are currently doing. There was loose bolt in the top of the agitator. I purhased a new one and upon tightening the machine works just fine.
Some years ago (at least 20)at a Malcolm Parry Christmas gathering in his home in Deep Cove I distinctly remember him saying something like, "Any man that gives a woman an appliance as a gift is not a man, or at least not a man with romance."
In 1965, in Buenos Aires I had a short but torrid relationship with a beautiful dark-haired woman called Susy. After an evening of incredible heart wrenching romance courtesy of Astor Piazzolla (live) playing his Milonga del Angel we left the theatre hand in hand. There was an appliance store across the street and Susy steered me to it and made me look at a gleeming refrigerator. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asked me. I was confused but it dawned on me that this beautiful woman was looking at this poor sailor ($1.00 a month military pay) with no apparent future as marriage material.
Sometime in the late 80s I went back to Argentina and looked up Susy. I rang the bell of her apartment She opened the door (I had not seen her since she had dumped me in 1966), looked at me and said, "Aren't you going to kiss me?" Later I reminded her about the fridge incident and she simply could not remember it. She went as far as to tell me that the fashionable Calle Florida (where we had attended our Piazzolla concert) had never had anything that could have been an appliance store.
At my age the prospect of having to buy a washing machine was even less romantic than looking at a refrigerator on the fashionable Calle Florida in 1965. When we went to Sears downtown, I did my best to convince Rosemary that we were buying a machine that was going to wash our clothes - nothing more and nothing less. Fortunately our salesman, Andrew Sipos (a superb one, I would buy a used car from him any day) understood and he made the transaction easy, quick and almost pleasant.
Tomatoes, Don Tirso & MSGSaturday, October 18, 2008
If there is a better on line dictionary than that of the Real Academia Española I would be very surprised. For years I have suffered dictionary laziness. If there is a word in a novel that I do not understand I tend to not want to get up from my bed to look it up. I have solved part of the problem by having and Canadian Oxford Dictionary by my bedside table. Spanish has been more of a problem because my Spanish dictionaries are ancient. It was some 8 years ago on a trip to Buenos Aires that the local newspaper, La Nación, had an article on the on line dictionary of the Real Academia. It would seem that this hallowed and ultra conservative organization, an apologist for the language of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, had decided to modernize. Consider that they nominated the swashbuckler Cartagena born author Arturo Perez-Reverte to the academy. I can boast that my grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena was younger when he was nominated. The fact is that this dictionary is very efficient and easy to use. I am delighted with it and use it often.
For years as a little boy my mother, when arriving late from teaching would make scrambled eggs mixed with chopped tomatoes. She called this pisto. Today I finally looked it up in the RAE and this is how it was defined:
(Del lat. pistus, machacado).
1. m. Fritada de pimientos, tomates, huevo, cebolla o de otros alimentos, picados y revueltos.
2. m. Jugo o sustancia que se obtiene de la carne de ave, y se da caliente al enfermo que solo puede tragar líquidos.
3. m. Mezcla confusa de diversas cosas en un discurso o en un escrito.
It has then taken me 66 years to find out that pisto is Spanish for hash or hashing. Machacar (Latin pistus) is to chop up. I have always associated pisto not only with my mother but with my father who taught me that a tomato fried at very high heat goes through a chemical change (the sugar) and it acquires a wonderful taste. They almost have to be burned for me!
Another dish related to the tomato is a salad that my mother made with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and sliced onion. She said it was a favourite of Don Tirso. To this salad she simply added oil and vinegar. Rosemary loves the salad. We serve it with meat or chicken and its colour acts as a foil to plain white rice or kanin as they call it in the Philippines.
In Lillooet last week Ale told us that we had to pick the last of the tomatoes from her garden even if they were not ripe. The frost was coming. One of the tomatoes was very large and Lauren said it reminded her of a pumpkin.
Thirty years ago when I taught high school in Mexico City my students would bait me often with my opinion on drugs. I realized that if I was catagorically negative about drugs in the usual manner the ears of my students would flap shut in class. I always told them that my approach to drugs was the same as to the tomato. If I purchased a super market tomato I might want to add lots of pepper and even MSG if the tomato would satisfy my taste buds. But the route to take with a vine-ripened tomato was to pick it with one hand while holding a little salt shaker with the other. The tomato was good enough. The taste would be exquisite without any addition of spices or enhancing MSG. To me life was like a vine-ripened tomato. Some understood what I was getting at and would not push further.
A Wood Pile Before Frost Sets InFriday, October 17, 2008
It was brisk but not cold last weekend at Ale's in Lillooet. She was getting ready for winter. Her house does have central heating but she rarely uses it as her wood stove in her living room is most efficient. She has to keep it fed. So the folks who seem to supply most in Lillooet with nicely chopped firewood arrived and unloaded three pick-up loads. We found ourselves piling wood. This is something I have mostly never done before. I got slivers and sticky resin but the work made my blood circulate. We built three piles, one of them in Ale's inside porch. Being her father I gave her advice. I am sure she knows better. I told her that she should leave the indoor pile intact, brave the early winter and go outside to get her firewood.
Sometime around 1964 I had a professor at the University of the Americas who looked like Robert Frost (he had lots of white hair). They had been friends. He had many stories to tell us. From the back row where I sat, these stories, then, were drones that went in one ear and out the other. But somehow some stuff managed to linger and then remain. One day he read us Robert Frost's Wood Pile.
It took all this time and making a wood-pile in Lillooet to finally connect.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther--and we shall see."
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather--
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled--and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before.
The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
The Four Faces Of PamThursday, October 16, 2008
They seek him here, they seek him there,
those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in Heaven, is he in Hell,
that cursed, elusive Pimpernel.
Watching Leslie Howard and the dazzling Merle Oberon in Harold Young's (1935) The Scarlet Pimpernel with Rosemary this afternoon did little to dissipate my depression a day after teaching my editorial class at Van Arts. How can one teach such a course with the reality that editorial photography is moribund? Half in jest I would even suggest that it is far harder to find an editorial job these days than for Raymond Massey's Citizen Chauvelin to find that cursed and elusive Pimpernel.
Looking at all of Leslie Howard's disguises to thwart the evil Citizen Chauvein I thought of an assignment for Vancouver Magazine in 1996 that gave me lots of pleasure and did involve a woman with an illusive and complicated personality. She was not one but four women. Pamela Swanigan a journalist and staffer for Vancouver Magazine came up with the idea of putting four different descriptions of herself in the personals of a local Vancouver newspaper.
The responses were astounding and varied. She wrote of her experience for Vancouver Magazine and art director Anna Belluz hired me to photograph Swanigan in her four different descriptions. While Belluz was pretty serious and always at what seemed to be the proximity of a nervous breakdown she did give me the chance to have some fun. I immediately asked her to hire stylist and makeup artist Gitte Axen. Axen worked for movies so she accepted the assignment (and the obvious low editorial rate) simply because she knew we would enjoy ourselves. This we did.
Each of these photographs matched the description that Swanigan put in her classifieds. The pictures here are in that order and they are as follows:
Physical Me: 38-20-38. 5'3", 120 lbs. Cute face, brown eyes, curly hair, sensuous touch, full lips. Seeks great kisser with slow hands, 25-40
Spiritual Me: Strong-minded, soul searching Acquarius woman, with affinity for animals, ocean, night sky. Would love to meet sensitive, insightful man, not too flaky but spiritually evolved, 25-40
Active Me: SF, early 30s, likes board games, long walks, good conversation, watching sports. Musical tastes from ABBA to Chaka Khan. Lowbrow film tastes. Reads Harlequin Romances, Derek Wakcott, T.S. Eliot, children's lit. Seeks kind affectionate, articulate man, 25-40.
Basic Me: Pretty SF, ND.NS, 32. White/black/native ex-californian, extremely smart, direct, curious, passionate; caustic sense of humour. Financially and emotionally stable. Seeks intelligent, introspective, loving man, 25-40.
I haven't heard of or seen Swanigan since 1998. I wonder if she ever found a man and which one of her was the one that did it? Would the moribund magazines of today consider such crazy and fun ideas?
Crystal Pite - Harvey Southam - Elegance & ClassWednesday, October 15, 2008
Modern dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite has that kind of elegance and class that cannot be explained or defined. When I photographed her a couple of months back for three grueling hours in my very hot studio both of us were exhausted. She looked it. Sometime around the end I made her stand by the wall and I lit her with my very old Hollywood scoop light. This picture did not make the final cull of the ones that appeared a couple of months ago in VLM. But it still remains one of my favourites as it dipslays her poise even in the worst of conditions.
As I looked at this picture today I thought of someone who also had elegance and class. He was my friend Harvey Southam who died by his own hand in Toronto in 1992. His method for leaving us was not elegant nor was it bloody. For the first time since I knew him he lost a bit of that elegance but gained a tad in originality.
Southam was the only rich man who could drive a Buick station wagon (when most in his league drove BMWs) and still make that Buick look good. He looked good no matter what the car was.
We once took a helicopter to Victoria so that I could photograph and he could interview the then leader of the NDP. Bob Skelly. My equipment was specially heavy but he carried it for me. After the successful shoot and interview I told him, "Harvey I want to invite you for high tea at the Empress so that someday I can say that this poor freelancer invited you for tea." He smiled and went along with the charade. We had a great time.
There was a memorial service for him at Christ Church Cathedral a few months after his death. I hate memorial services so I decided I was not going to go. the night before I thought about it and changed my mind.
The next day I went to the service and sat as far back as I could. My head was leaning against the back wall of the church. The minister talked about idyllic summers in Qualicum. I looked around and I did not see one single person of colour. I had come because that night before I had begun to understand that Harvey Southam's passing and his memorial service in Vancouver would one day be seen by historians as a day when the old guard of Vancouver changed to a new one. It would define the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. By being in that church I would observe the changing of the guard. The idyllic summer days in Qualicum would end and be replaced by quick weekend trips to LA or Hong Kong.
A few years before I had accompanied Southam to one of the Bentall towers. A group of eminent Vancouver businessmen were siting at a very large table. Southam sat down. One of them said, "Who are we going to pick as chancellor for Simon Fraser University."
A few weeks before I had been invited for dinner at a new Chinese restaurant by city Alderman and deputy mayor (they were know as that then) Bill Yee. I remember that I was sitting right next City Engineer Fritz Bowers. I felt I was getting an inside look at power in Vancouver. The next day when I showed up at Southam's office (he was the editor of the city business magazine Equity which he had founded) I told him of my experience with Bill Yee and made the comment, "Yee could make our city's first ethnic mayor." Southam looked at me and with a gentle smile said, "Not while we're around."
On another occasion we had gone to Whistler to photograph Vancouver Stock Market honcho Peter Brown. Brown had purchased a restaurant and Southam was writing about it for Equity. We went in his old Mercedes (the one before the Buick) two seater sportscar (the one with the boxy square roof). One of the headlights was not working. On our way back we gorged on a large bag of chocolate-covered expresso beans that Southam had purchased. The combination of the chocolate, the caffeine and the one headlight made our trip back a scary one.
Two weeks before Southam died I was in Toronto to see magazine art directors. On a Friday, late afternoon, I decided to call his office. Southam answered. I was surprised. "Can't you hire someone else to answer your phone?, "I asked him. "Hey," he answered, "I do everything here and that includes answering my own phone." That evening I stopped by his office and we went to a nearby cafe where he had a coke and I had a coffee. He was still that elegant and classy guy I had known a worked with for a few years. I sensed in him that warmth that I had always admired in him.
I can't but think that while something of Vancouver died with Harvey Southam that afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral in 1992, our fair city in spite of its growth and "world-class" beauty may have lost some class and elegance that has yet to be renewed. I can neither explain nor define the loss.
Every time we drive to Lillooet and back it is impossible to not notice the hundreds of thousands of pine trees that are dead or dying (the pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae) between Lillooet and Lytton. What makes the trees that more obvious is their beautiful bark made up of rough, rich reddish brown plates with wide dark brown or black grooves. This last Sunday I decided to stop and photograph Rebecca with my Noblex panoramic camera which shoots a 7 inch long negative. It is most unfortunate that this blog will not show pictures that are longer than 5 inches but if you click on the image it will get larger.
Before we left we pulled a bunch of needles so we could indentify the pine with our books at home. We called our daughter Ale in Lillooet that evening and she told us the pines were Pinus contorta (Lodge Pine and Lodgepole Pine). She could not confirm it to us as she had never stopped to check on the needles but this is what the city sages had told her.
My wife Rosemary knew differently. Both of us had met the gentle and erudite Gerald Bane Straley (he died in 1997) who was the Research Scientist and Curator of Collections at the UBC Botanical Garden. I had even taken a course on propagation with him and found his enthusiasm catching.
Rosemary had been taught by Straley that the only definitive way of identifying a pine tree was to count how many needles grew from one bunch. A Pinus contorta has only two needles per bunch and the pines between Lillooet and Lytton had three. Our books showed the telltale bark but said nothing of the needles.
But then I remembered Straley's book. It is one of the most useful books in our botanical book collection (a splendid thing to say in an age of looking up stuff on Google). It is called Trees of Vancouver - A Guide to the Common and Unusual Trees of the City. On the conifer section he confirmed (the three needles) what Rosemary has suspected. Our beautiful dying pines were and are Pinus ponderosa.
This book, which should still be in print is one of the finest books to be had. The diagram and explanation of every tree in the Shaughnessy Crescent is worth the price of the book. Best of all every varity of tree in our city is given a location within Vancouver where one can find a good specimen.
When I photographed Dr. Straley at the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre of Plant Research (that's the new name of the garden) I asked him what was his favourite plant at the time. It was Kirengeshoma koreana.
Thanks to Straley's little book we know all about the Pinus ponderosa but we will have to stop again and check out another detail we did not know about. You see he says:
There is a definite fragrance of vanilla when the cracks of the bark are smelled...the name comes from ponderous, that is, having great weight or mass, referring to the size of the trees.
If you cannot buy the book new used copies can be found on the web. And for info on all things botanical, one of the best (some say the best) web pages in the world is UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research
Routine ReduxMonday, October 13, 2008
A constant theme here has been my harping on the wonders and benefits of routine. In particular it is an association of routine with custom and tradition. My wife Rosemary is a creature of routine as are both my granddaughters Rebecca and Lauren. It is never more evident than when we go to visit Ale in Lillooet. The girls expect my home made pizza in the car by the time we get to Chilliwack on our way North. They expect to be exposed to new music on the CD player yet Rebecca wants some of the oldies such as Oscar Peterson playing the Work Song.
Of late I have been thwarted by oposing routines to my peril. When I print a b+w negative in my darkroom the emulsion (the matte side of the negative) is always facing down. When I scan that same negative the emulsion has to be facing up. Over the weekend I took some photos of Leo the horse to his owner Lloyd McNary. It was too late to re print them when I noticed I had printed them backwards. Luckily McNary did not notice.
Routine in a darkroom is important. When the lights are out I instinctively know where everything is and when I go to grab this or that I find it. The opposite of this routine is similar to working on someone else's computer and navigating with an alien mouse!
Sometime around 1965 I was visiting my first cousin Inesita O'Reilly Kuker in her home in San Isidro and she instructed me to buy her some sliced ham at the local almacén. I asked the man behind the counter for 350 gramos de jamon cocido (cooked ham). At that point the man began to shout at me, "I have mortadella, prosciutto, many varieties of cheese and you dare to ask me for sliced cooked ham?" He shouted and almost went beserk. I turned tail. My guess is that he was finally done in by customers' routine.
I have a fondness for listening to live performances of Vivaldi's Gloria and part of my routine is to bring along a stop watch to record the variation in length. It would seem that my love for routine sometimes involves a variation of it.
Going to visit Ale is all routine. That routine was broken by bringing The Flight of the Red Balloon. This is an art film that is as slow as watching red paint dry. An 8 minute long one camera take may delight a film aficionado but it did not delight anybody even though I had fallen for the review of the film in the NY Times which was glowing.
Another routine, the taking of a photograph in the same place, but months or years later brought tears to Rebecca's eyes who flatly refused to pose by Lloyd McNary's gate. Ale stressed the idea that I was trying to record how time changes things and people so Rebecca reluctantly posed with Sunny. The little girl that faced my camera in the spring seems to be an entirely different one that posed for me on Saturday.
Another routine that was modified to the better was that I was less critical with Ale on her rustic living and I did my best to praise the relief we feel in spending a couple of days "en el campo" as Argentines say.
But I think that what is best about routine is the realization and sadness of knowing that all routines must end. It is part of the pleasure to savour them as if each time were their last.
Liv Ullmann, Petrus Christus , Fanny Burney & Other BagatellesSunday, October 12, 2008
A nicely printed photograph of actress Liv Ullmann leans against the wall in my Robson Street studio. It has been there for at least 10 years. Fewer and fewer people who come to my studio notice her haunting face and fewer and fewer ever ask me who she is. When they do I like to throw the rather useless facts about her that she is not the most famous Swedish actress because she is known as a Norwegian even though she was born in Tokyo in 1938.
My grandmother never suffered fools and when someone uttered a folly in her presence she would tell me later, "La ignorancia es atrevida." Her Spanish origin "Ignorance is daring." is a much more damning version of "ignorance is bliss". When people really did make fools of themselves she brought up an expression which showed the Darwinian conflict the Spaniards had with Darwin in late 19th century Spain. "Asomó el rabo," she would say. It was equivalent to, "he showed his monkey tail".
I remember two particular daring and completely stupid utterances of mine that make me blush in shame every time I think about them. Sometime around 1964 I had a cultured friend with whom I went to concerts of all kinds. He was particularly keen on Ella Fitzgerald. One day he asked me, "Have you heard Carmina Burana?" He was extremely kind to me when I answered, "No, who's she?"
At an American high school in Mexico City where I taught around 1969 I had some interesting teen age students who one day asked me, "Mr Hayward, have you heard any Alice Cooper?" They all roared when I asked, "No, who's she?"
As a little boy in Buenos Aires we were all read in class the novel Corazón by Edmundo de Amicis. Until quite recently there was nothing about this Italian author in libraries or on the web. In most cases he has been forgotten as was the author (I have no idea who it was) of a biography in Spanish of Franz Schubert that our fifth grade teacher used to read to us every day.
For me, memory is much like a red carpet that is being rolled out at the same time that its opposite end is being rolled up. As we gain more facts our brains stores memories of our past into cubbyholes that sometimes are just about impossible to access later. Unlike computers we cannot buy more RAM. I think that this unrolling and unrolling happens with history, literature, music and just about everything else. John Gunther's Inside books were common knowledge and popular when I was a teenager. He has faded even more than my mother's favourite (and mine) spy novelist Eric Ambler. All those films based on Jane Austen or with Jane Austen as a protagonist have done nothing to revive much interest in one of her remarkable earlier contemporaries, Fanny Burney (below,left) who inspired Austen to write.
I have a student in a photography class, the history of photography, whose last name is Kertész. I found it odd that my student had never heard of the famous Hungarian photographer, André Kertész who was one of the early founders of photojournalism. I have another student, very tall with a profile that rivals Barbra Streisand. On the day that I pointed out her resemblance she had a tall hairdo much like Streisand's in Funny Girl. My student has no knowledge of Streisand. It does make my class easier to teach. Much of what I tell them is absolutely new.
A few years back (8, perhaps) I was driving my car while listening to a wonderful solo piano on CBC radio. I stopped and waited to find out what it was. It was Beethoven's Bagatelle for piano in A minor ('Für Elise'), WoO 59. I had to call someone to tell them of my experience. I dialed my friend and VSO pianist Linda Lee Thomas. Her husband Jon Washburn, the conductor of the Vancouver Chamber Choir answered. I unloaded my wonder on him. His remark is one I will never forget because of the sadness in his voice, "Oh, Alex, to hear something for the first time. I am so jealous."
I propose to be less vitriolic and more patient with my students' spotty knowledge of that I would consider important. Perhaps I can enthuse them to the wonders of Kertesz and even(!) Barbara Streisand. I have softened up thanks to the book that seems to be currently consuming my waking hours, Julian Barnes's nothing to be frightened of.
A few years ago I was at the Birmingham City Art Gallery. In one glassed-in corner, there is a small, intense painting by Petrus Christus, of Christ displaying his wounds: with outstreched forefinger and thumb he indicates where the spear went in - even invites us to measure the gash. His crown of thorns has sprouted into a gilt, spun-sugar halo of glory. Two saints, one with a lily and the other with a sword, attend him, drawing back the green velvet drapes of a strangely domestic proscenium.
As I was stepping away from my inspection, I became aware of a track-suited father and small son travelling towards me at a lively art-hating clip. The father, equipped with better trainers and more stamina, held a yard or two's advantage as they turned this corner. The boy glanced into the exhibition case and asked, in a strong Brummy accent, 'Why's that man holding his chest, Dad?' The father without breaking stride, managed a quick look back and an instant answer:'Dunno.'
Magic & Reality With Emma ThompsonSaturday, October 11, 2008
Some of my most enjoyable pleasures in coming to Lillooet are the routines of watching a movie the evening we arrive and breakfast the next day. A slight modification to this routine is Rebecca's Nintendo DS. I asked her what the DS meant and it is double screen as the game has two. I have re-baptized the game the DSB and when Rebecca asked me I told her, "It stands for dumb sh.. box." She was not amused. Breakfast of apple strudel, sausages, watermelon, melon and my own very strong tea had to be shared with a Rebecca telling the little dogs of her game to sit, beg and roll over.
Selecting a film at Videomatica is simple. Since I have to please Lauren, Rebecca, Rosemary and Ale my selection has to have a little bit of everything. I have found that the best place to look is in the British film section. We watched Nanny McFhee (2006), Directed by Kirk Jones; written by Emma Thompson and based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand. Both Colin Firth and Emma Thompson and Colin Firth star in it with a too brief but hilarious performance as an assistant embalmer by Derik Jacobi.
Rosemary and I discussed how this is the sort of film that satisifes everybody because the English, unlike Hollywood, do not dumb down. Rebecca just said, "Colin Firth is a hearthrob." I look forward to tonight's viewing of The Flight Of The Red Balloon. Can any film with Juliette Binoche be anything but luscious?
The picture here I took almost 50 years ago in the thieves' market of La Lagunilla in Mexico City. The man represents to me that blend of magic and reality which has to be the principal ingredient of why we were all glued to the screen last night.
W.H. Hudson In ReverseFriday, October 10, 2008
Rosemary is in a tizzy, as always, before we go anywhere. I have been instructed to make the pizza and choose what I want to wear. We are going with the girls, Lauren and Rebecca to visit Ale in Lillooet. The pizza is part of the routine that the girls like. We eat the pizza as soon as we are past Chilliwack on our way to Lillooet via the Fraser Canyon. For the trip I have to select 6 or 7 CDs of music. I mix jazz and classical piano to keep Rebecca's interest in that instrument alive. Today we will be listening to Philip Glass playing Metamorphoses on solo piano, and Philippe Entremont playing Satie's Piano Works. But there will also be some Dave Brubeck and John Lewis playing the piano with Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Jim Hall (guitar), Percy Heath (bass) and Chico Hamilton (drums) in one of my desert island discs 2 Degrees East - 3 Degrees West.
I always feel an excitement of going to the "country" or "the camp" as Anglo Argentines are fond of saying. As a little boy I was often dispatched by my parents to the campo for a few weeks during the summer school holidays in January. I marveled at the exhiliaration I felt when I stood on the Argentine pampa and I rotated my body 360 degrees and not find anything or anybody breaking that sharp horizon line unless it were that natural interruption of that non tree tree that Argentines worship, the Ombú.
This morning I gave it some extra thought and I had this curious feeling that somehow it was familiar but in reverse. I soon found the passage in William Henry Hudson's A Traveller in Little Things. This book of essays on travels throughout Britain were written four years after his autobiographical memoir, Far Away and Long Ago which gives an account of his childhood on the pampa where he was born in 1841. If he had written nothing else, Hudson would be remembered for this poignant memoir. There is a little bit of this memoir feeling in the little story The Two White Houses: A Memory.
It was the great southern road which leads from the city of Buenos Ayres, the Argentine capital, to the vast level cattle-country of the pampas, where I was born and bred. Naturally it was a tremendously exciting adventure to a child's mind to come from these immense open plains, where one lived in rude surrounding with the semi barbarous gauchos for only neighbours, to a great civilised town full of people and of things strange and beautiful to see. And to touch and taste.
Thus it happened that when I, a child, with my brothers and sisters, were taken to visit the town we would become more and more excited as we approached it at the end of a long journey, which usually took us two days, at all we saw - ox-carts and carriages and men on horseback on the wide hot dusty road, and the houses and groves and gardens on either side...
The estancia Hudson was born in, Los 25 Ombues, near the Chichitas river in the district of Quilmes, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina would be about 40 minutes away by train today. Quilmes then was certainly not Lillooet today nor does Vancouver today in any way resemble the lazy city of Buenos Aires then. But I still feel that my "journey into the interior" in a modern car with a slice of pizza on my lap is some sort of wonderful trip into the unknown.
I do look forward to it.
Of My Blog & Fading & Renewing FriendshipThursday, October 09, 2008
I have written of friendship and the loss of it here but it has been much in my thoughts of late. In that previous blog I quoted Harold Bloom from his book 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 disappear, overcome by space,time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life."
Last night I read something most similar from Julian Barnes's nothing to be frightened of:
"I look around at my many friendships, and can recognize that some of them are not so much friendships any more as memories of friendship."
Not too many months ago I finally was able to communicate with my cousing Georgito O'Reilly in Buenos Aires using Skype and a webcam. After a few minutes of conversation, Georgito, who has never ever not said what he thinks told me, "Here we are talking and yet we seem to have so little in common to talk about."
I attempted to call a friend in the US with Skype but was stopped by the firewall of an answering machine that accepted no anonymous calls. Skype by its very nature is anoymous when one calls from computer to telephone. So I called up my friend on the regular phone and I was told he hated the phone but I could try his cellular. On another day I didi just that but I was cut off very quickly by, "Alex I am at my mother-in-law's and she hates for me to be on the phone, besides I don't really need to talk to you because I read your blog. I know what you are up to."
Today I spoke with a local friend on the phone and began to tell him of my experience of reading the Julian Barnes book but I was interrupted, "I know all about it, I read it in your blog."
My first cousin, Jorge Wenceslao de Irureta Goyena was my favourite cousin when I was a small boy principally because he was the only one I saw regularly. I lost him for a few years and saw him again when we were both 21. You can see us here (and further down when we were younger playing with his father's U-control airplanes) in a photo taken by simply extending my Pentacon F clunker camera in front with the self-timer in operation. It is in hazy focus but you can see the difference between us. he had inherited the dark good looks of his Argentine mother whose family hailed from the province of Corrientes. At the time of this photograph Wenci and I had a deep disagreement on Piazzolla and tango. According to Wenci Piazzolla was not tango. He was the conservative one while I argued that the tango had to evolve into something new. Somehow my memory does not tell me much as to why we didn't see much of each other.
From his father, Antonio, who lived in North Carolina I found out quite a few years ago that Wenci had gone to meet up with him there. Then there was nothing and my uncle died. There were rumours (most shocking to Wenci's conservative family) that he had married a black woman with children. I did not know if this was true.
With the advent of internet and Googgle I have been trying to tie up the loose strings of my life and I have located just about all the people that have meant something to me. In some cases I caught up with their trail a few months after their death and with others just in time. But the one I simply found nothing on was Wenci.
Many of my friends and relatives did what most do as soon as they get internet. They Google themselves. Many found my blog and found me when I could not find them. Wenci was the holdout. I even managed to find his stepmother in North Carolina who told me that he had gone back to Buenos Aires after having lived in North Carolina for 19 years.
It was a week or two ago that Wenci finally bought a computer and he did the obvious and he found me from a blog this one one about death!
So we are back communicating with email and Skype phone calls. Pictures have been flying back and forth and I wonder when I or he will feel like Georgito O'Reilly that we might just have so little in common?
In the other photo taken about the same time as the one with Wenci (also with a self timer but with the camera leaning on something) I am with my first real sweetheart, Corina. In recent years I hear little from her. She lives in England and has two boys. I sometimes prod her into answering.
While surfing my blog my cousin Diane Hayward found this one. She was amazed as she had known Corina in school. Diane was older but they had gone to the same school. My cousin Elizabeth Blew and Corina had been classmates. Just a few days before finding my blog Diane and Elizabeth had run into Corina at a play. Corina had returned to BA for a few days to arrange the selling of a property. My name had no reason to be mentioned. But it was later. In fact Corina took singing lessons with Diane's mother my Aunt Iris. I guess I am the culprit that in my brief relationship with Corina I never mentioned the names of my cousins.
The Squirrels Had nothing to be frightened ofWednesday, October 08, 2008
In 1949 Ilived in the Buenos Aires suburb of Coghlan on Calle Melián which was not far from the Pirovano Hospital. Beautiful black-lacquered hearses, drawn by four shiny black stallions with black plumes on their head, frequently passed by, empty, on their way to the hospital morgue. Because our street, like many then, and even now, were paved with large Paris style cobblestones we could always hear the precise clicking of the horse's hooves. We lingered in the hope of spotting the coffin behind the beveled crystal windows.
Not long after I searched our garden plum trees for the appropriate horqueta or "y joint" that I could cut off to make an honda or slingshot. We always used a discarded bicycle inner tube to make the elastic part of the weapon. I then attempted to shoot any unlucky wren silly enough to rest in one of the plum trees. A few did and eventually I had my first kill. I was appalled and almost ashamed when I saw the dead bird on the grass. It was really my first look at death.
I remember connecting with the character that Molly Parker (as a young girl) plays in the 1999 Lynne Stopkewich film Kissed. In it she buries dead animals from her garden with lots of pomp and ceremony in blue Birks boxes. I never shot at a bird again with that slingshot.
Two years later, in 1951, my cousin Jorge Wenceslao de Irureta Goyena spotted a very large toad in an estancia north of Goya in the Province of Corrientes. He began to hit it with a large stone. I tried to stop him but to no avail. A few days later my uncle Tony (Wency's father) took us into the jungle with his .22 rifle. The jungle canopy was a loud green cloud of thousands of parakeets. We stopped and then Uncle Tony began a systematic execution of the birds telling us they were a plague. After 50 or 60 of them plummeted from the upper branches of the trees we went back to the estancia house.
On July 26, 1952 Eva Perón died. I saw darkish b+w newsreels in the movies of the capilla ardiente a word that means a fired chapel but is simply a hocus pocus name for a place where a body lies in state with lots of candles and military guards. The music was Beethoven, Chopin and Lalo and there were many closeups of grieving descamisados (Peronist shirtless ones as Perón called his followers). Eva Perón was my first taste or awareness of human death. I was 9. Every evening when I was put to bed my mother turned on the radio. It did not matter what station it was as the program was always interrupted at 20:25. "It is 20:26," an Orson Welles voice boomed, "the hour when Eva Perón, the spiritual leader of our nation gained immortality."
In the fall of 1966 my Armenian uncle Leo Mahdjoubian phoned. He didn't pull any punches. He simply told me, "Your father kicked the bucket yesterday and you should know." My father had died (DOA at the Pirovano Hospital) with enough money in his pocket that I was able to pay for a modest funeral. It was the first time in my life (once again for my mother) that I went shopping for a coffin. There was enough money left over to pay for a 7 year residence in Chacarita the large Buenos Aires cemetery where the masses are buried.
On March 27, 1982 I purchased a ticket (number 175) to go to an underground concert with my favourite alternative band, the Popularos (below, with Art Bergmann middle row, right). It was my lucky night because I won the white Pontiac hearse. The organizers gave me the choice of the car or $500. I took the money. I put $250 in the bank and then bought $250 worth of beer (that was lots back on 1982) and invited all my alternative musician friends to a party. The beer was put into a bath tub. By the end of the night Zippy Pinhead (second row, left) was carried away and I was able to confirm there was still beer left in the tub.
Sometime around 1989 I bought an air gun at Three Vets. It was a beautiful immitation .44 magnum which came with two barrels, a short one and a long one. In 1989 I was an eager but mostly ignorant gardener and I thought our garden squirrels were out to eat all our spring bulbs (I was partly right). I made the decision that I would shoot the varmints (that fine word the Americans like to use). But I decided I was going to give the little animals a spoorting chance by not wearing my glasses. I would quietly but suddenly open the kitchen door and then raise my gun. I would aim and shoot. I managed to get one. I saw it leap up when I shot it and it disappeared in a hosta bed. I went out searching and found the little animal agonizing but still alive. The animal was suddenly that wren from so long ago in my Buenos Aires garden. I gave the squirrel its coup de grâce and retired the gun on a table in the living room. When Hilary (not yet Rebecca or Lauren's mother) found out she told me that if I attempted to shoot any more squirrels she was going to call the SPCA. A few weeks later we had a burglar who stole my stereo, my CDs and the gun. When I made my insurance claim I kept the offending gun from the list.
In 1989 I returned to Argentina for the first time since 1967. I visited my half brother Enrique and my nephews. One in particular, Patricio (affectionately nicknamed Pato or Duck) was especially interested in all things George as they all call my father and their grandfather. Patricio asked me about Chacarita and I told him that George's tomb would not be there anymore as they would have dug it up after 7 years and thrown its contents into a mass grave or filled some hole with its rubble. He looked at me with disgust. I forgot about it. A couple of days later Patricio came up to me and threw a little square marble stone on the table. He almost hit me with it. "I looked at the records to find where George was buried and located a Juana Esmeralda. She took George's place. I found this white pebble. Perhaps it had some contact with his bones."
Death has been in my thoughts of late here here and here. I have been at it for years because of my exposure to philosopher and teacher Ramón Xirau who taught me about Epicurus of Samos in 1964.
For years I have avoided reading the books of British author Julian Barnes simply because he has a startling resemblance to a friend of mine, Michael Metcalf (seen below to the right of his father Ben) who committed suicide with a drug overdose. But I had to finally rescind my own prohibition and last night I began his latest nothing to be frightened of (Random House Canada 2008). Barnes describes his father's death:
He died a modern death, in hospital, without his family, attended in his final minutes by a nurse, months - indeed, years - after medical science had prolonged his life to a point where the terms on which it was was being offered were unimpressive. My mother had seen him a few days previously, but then suffered an attack of shingles. On that final visit, he had been confused. She had asked him, characteristically, 'Do you know who I am? Because the last time I was here, you didn't know what I was.' My father had replied, just as characteristically,'I think you are my wife.'
In the New York Times review of Barnes's book Garrison Keillor states:
I don't know how this book will do in our hopeful country, with the author's bleak face on the cover, but I will say a prayer for retail success. It is a beautiful and funny book, still booming in my head.
I am happy to report that so far I agree and furthermore I would like to add that the Canadian edition of nothing to be frightened of does not have Julian Barnes's bleak face on the cover.
John Loengard Teaches A Brat A Thing Or TwoTuesday, October 07, 2008
"I don't want people to know that I am a brat even if I am one."
That is what Rebecca told me today when I mentioned that I would write in today's blog what a holy terror she had been when I tried to take her pictures alone and with Lauren in our fall garden on Sunday.
Initially I had told Hilary Stewart (their mother) that I wanted the girls to show up on Sunday with appropriate dresses for the session. I had mentioned to Hilary that I was planning on taking pictures of them by the rich brownish red bark of Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) and my large but collapsing Hosta 'Paul's Glory'. The girls appeared minus dresses so I sent Rosemary to get something for them from Hilary's. Immediately Rebecca informed me she was not going to wear a dress and said she was going to wear my mother's Mexican red rebozo. I pointed out that the red would kill the colour of the tree bark. She reluctantly put on the dress while repeating to me< "I hate this dress. I hate all dresses." When I showed her the location for the photo she told me it was cold and she was not going to go barefoot into that wet and dirty ground. I told her to wear shoes. She then complained about the spiders (she had never been afraid of them until Sunday) and flatly refused to pose by the tree until I told her she had to, "Donde manda capitán no manda marinero," or Where the captain orders the sailor obeys. By the time she and the extremely cooperative Lauren were by the tree Rebecca was shouting at Lauren to not step on her or for this or that. Rebecca would cry and then suddenly microseconds later she would hum a tune. I could never get anything but a glum, disgusted or bored look from her. It became worse when I put her in the middle of my rose bed (see yesterday's blog) where she now complained she was going to get scratched by rose thorns. "This is the last picture, "she would tell me. Or she asked, "How many more?" I was reluctant to answer as my inspiration to take pictures was rapidly drying out. But we did take a few and in spite of it all I like some of our photos. But certainly not as much as the glamorous picture I took of her three years ago in my studio.
Perhaps it was all worth it because of the startling but charming statement she made about being a brat. I told her I was going to write about it all and showed her the page, page 58 from Lohn Loengard's Pictures Under Discussion. I told her to read what Loengard had written about his daughter Jennifer Loengard (1983) which was the name of the beautiful picture (below, left in b+w). I think I might just try a regal profile of Rebecca with b+w film soon. She read it and understood and complained no further. I have a feeling that our next photo session might just be more pleasant. And here are Loengard's words on his daughter Jennifer:
If I take a picture of my daughter, our relationship changes and she is not my daughter any more. She could just as easily be the Duchess of Malfi. If she says, "Oh, Dad, not now!" I'll treat her exactly as I woud Georgia O'Keeffe if she said, "Oh, Mr Loengard, please not now!" In my head I think, "There is a beautiful picture here and by God, short of murder, I'm going to get it. So shut up and hold still!" But what I say is : "You look wonderful. I'll just take a minute. It's marvelous. We're doing something very special."
I learned the part about a minute from a dentist. I learned the rest from Carl Mydans. For the magazine's thirtieth birthday, Life photographers were asked to photograph each other. Carl was assigned to me. To see such an intelligent and distinguished man concentrating on the problem of taking my picture was extremely flattering. Still I felt tense. After all I was being scrutinized. Carl kept telling me what wonderful pictures were being made. I believed him, and soon I relaxed. I was a success at being a subject!
(You should tell these things to a person as you photograph him - even if it is a lie - which in this case it was. Life photographers as it turned out, could photograph anything in the world except each other.)
John Loengard Puts UpMonday, October 06, 2008
I think that tomorrow's blog, like today will feature pictures of my granddaughters and something on photographer John Loengard. John Loengard ( 1934) was both photographer and picture editor for Life Magazine during the height of its influence on the world of photography. Alas except for a few people who might know, Loengard is not a household name even though he does have a web presence. These days photographers that may interest those under 30 seem to all be called Chip. John would then not be good enough.
What separates Loengard from many other photographers is his beautiful writing when he explains his photographs. The black and white photograph you see here is his daughter Anna and the picture is called Anna, 1975. It is from his wonderful book Pictures Under Discussion (A Bob Adelman book - Amphoto an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publicatioons New York 1987)which I treasure in my photography book library. I will hope that Mr. Leongard does not send lawyers after me for quoting from page 110:
Dinner table conversation about photography changes from year to year, so that what is on everyone's mind now is different from 1973. That was the year I started teaching, when Diane Arbus's work was having its first success and photographic galleries were springing up from nowhere. At the time I wondered if all photography would become not only self-expressive but self-conscious as well. It didn't. Photographers may be concerned, conceptual, confrontational, candid, casual, constructing, but what is important is that they have a point of view.
When I teach a class I often give the assignment: "Photograph someone you love." I ask people to do this so they have a subject about whom they have feelings, a subject that is more than a model, or an object or a shape, or an idea. In this way, they can judge the result not only by its technical success, but also by how well it describes their feelings. Having asked some students to do this in 1975, I thought it was time to put up or shut up. I took on the assignment too, and asked my younger daughter, Anna, to pose quietly in the afternoon light against the dining room-room door, which she did with enthusiasm. She's never been lovelier.
Loengard writes above, "...which she did with enthusiasm." This is something that Rebecca did not show on Sunday afternoon when I took these pictures. But then if you want to know about it read right here, tomorrow.
Pictures Under Discussion
Cyril Belshaw & The Wondrous Chinese SpoonSunday, October 05, 2008
Chinese soup spoon, jap:散り蓮華, ちりれんげ, chirirenge lit. "fallen lotus petal" — usually ceramic and of a distinct Chinese soup spoon shape, which can vary in size from normal soup spoon size to near-platter size.
In 1950 when I was 8 years old my mother took me to the house of one of her Chinese students at the American School in Buenos Aires. For someone who had only seen white people and the accasional darkish Bolivian or Argentine aboriginal this was as exciting as things got. Unfortunately I was also an Argentine meat, potato and salad kind of boy and the prospect of being offered exotic food was downright scary. And scary it was. I did a lot of drinking of water to wash down food of uncertain origin. But I was fascinated by my first glimpse of the lovely Chinese spoon. I have been delighted and fascinated by it since. The design of the spoon would blend in with anything from Bauhaus.
Sometime in the early 80s I was dispatched by Vancouver Magazine to photograph UBC Professor of Anthropology, Cyril Belshaw. Through his friend Don Stanley, associate editor at Vancouver Magazine, Belshaw had granted Vancouver Magazine an exclusive interview right after he had been found innocent in European courts of murdering his wife. For impartial details read here.
I decided before I got to Belshaw's house (I had been forewarned not to disclose his address to anybody) that I was going to photogrpah his face and hands separately and leave it up to the Vancouver Magazine readers to decide if indeed he was a murderer or not. But when I got there and he opened the door I was met by a quiet spoken man with a tragic expression on his face. He was visibly nervous about the approaching ordeal of being photographed. "Don't tell anybody I live here. If they find out they will stop and point in this direction and say, ""He lives there.""
I had to find a way of making him feel comfortable as this has always been my course of action. He had agreed to be photographed so it was up to me to help him even though I had an ulterior motive up my sleeve in reference to his hands.
To help him relax I decided to ask him a question to which I had never received a satisfactory answer. "Sir, why is it that the Japanese adopted many of the customs of the Chinese, and went as far as copying their writing, and using the Chinese chop sticks, yet they never copied or used the Chinese spoon? We do know that the Japanese slurp their liquids and the spoon they finally adopted was the Western spoon." Belshaw's answer was a simple one but a startling one, "Cultures have always been known to selectively adopt and adapt only what interests them from other cultures. They, the Japanese were not interested in the spoon so they did not use it."
After this explanation I sensed a release and determination and Belshaw faced my camera. I quickly turned off the light that was pointed at his hands and took my portrait. I felt that the lighting of his hands would have overstepped my duty of being as objective as possible. If a court had found the man innocent I had no right to editorialize and cast any suspicion.
If you really want to stump music freaks ask them to name a couple of Italian composers whose names do not end in i. If they are good they might begin with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, mention Giovanni Battista Fontana and then point out that French composer Jean-Baptiste de Lully (originally Giovanni Battista di Lulli) are three. After that it's definitely uphill.
At last night's (almost secret pre-concert concert) of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra's season held at St James Anglican on Cordova (that very same concert will be repeated today at St Augustine's in Kerrisdale and tomorrow at West Vancouver United Church) the interesting program featured 6 Italian baroque composers and one, in this day and age, almost unknown German, Georg Muffat. Fully 50% of the Italian composers had names that did not end in i! There was Alessandro Scarlatti (father of the better known Domenico), then Arcangelo Corelli and Giuseppe Valentini affectionately known as the Little Ragamuffin. But the other three featured composers were the ones that were unexpected for their definitive lack of that final i. Consider Alessandro Stradella (murdered at age 37), Francesco Durante (singly responsible for creating the first viola joke and told very well by the soon to be mother, Glenys Webster and fellow jokester Mieka Kohut) and the very Roman Giovanni Zamboni Romano!
Aside from the odd names of mostly unknown composers (but not lacking in originality and or virtuosity) the concert was full of real and most pleasant surprises all improved by the vision of being able to scrape the filling off some Oreos accompanied by tea in the parish hall during the intermission.
The thematic of the concert seemed to be weighted by murder (Scarlati's piece was his introduction to the oratorio Cain, or The First Murder), or knowledge that the composer Alessandro Stradella had been brutally murdered, buffered in between, by the soaring music of Arcangelo Corelli who may or may have not levitated while playing his violin at church.
For me there were two high points. There was an astounding six-voice fugue in the second movement of Giuseppe Valentini's Concerto in a minor for four violins, Op 7 No. 11 that from my vantage point on the first row seat, three feet from violinist Paul Luchkow (seen here) which even made my otherwise blasé wife Rosemary sit up and notice because it was so beautiful. The other peak happened when guest leader, archlute and baroque guitar player, Luca Harris sat down to play his huge (extremely long) archlute which is sort of like a bass lute. It's bass notes stretched towards the church ceiling and every time he played that G string my whole body resonated (might I have levitated just a bit?) at its sound. It is a sound that rivals that of a bass trombone or a beautifully played Guarneri del Gesù. It is not often that one gets to hear an archlute solo (Sonata in G major from Sonate d'intavolatura di leuto, Op 1) by Giovanni Zamboni Romano.
more St. James
even more St. James
and more St. James
much more St. James
The History Boys & Fine Teachers RememberedFriday, October 03, 2008
Harold Pinter wrote his first play, The Room in 1957. One year later my English teacher at St Edward's High School, in Austin, Texas, Brother Dunstan Bowles C.S.C (Congregation of the Holy Cross) was reading the play to us in class and telling us of this "exciting and new" playwright. I have my doubts that the conventional school sytem of the city and its English teachers even knew of the significance of eventual Nobel Winner (2005) English playwright. The reason we knew is that our school (which just happened to be a Roman Catholic school) had extraordinary teachers and we obtained an extraordinary education.
Many of those teachers linger in my heart and they are a combination of all the talents (and perhaps a few of the faults) of English teacher, Hector ( played so beautifully by Bernard Cuffling) in Bennett's 2005 play The History Boys. We saw it performed by the Arts Club Theatre Company at the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday. The History Boys has some of the good points (a few) of the James Bridges 1973 film The Paper Chase, and even some good ones (very few) from Animal House . Best of all this cerebral play has in Bernard Cuffling not that stuffy Houseman (John) but one who can freely quote the other Housman, A.E.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
`Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
`The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.
A Shropshire Lad, XIII, A.E. Housman
The 8 likable and fairly well adjusted young boys (almost men) of the Sheffield grammar school in the 80s brought me fond memories of 11 boys I had met and photographed back in November 1983 at St. George's School in Vancouver. I had been assigned by Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry to accompany writer Don McLellan. I immediately realized that my take of this premier Vancouver private school was going to be in direct oposition to McLellan's. He had never gone to a private school and I had. He saw the boys as rich and privileged (which they were). I determined then that somehow I was not going to attempt my usual objectivity in my approach of the photography and I was going to make all my pictures of the boys, rosy and pleasant to compensate for the expected ( I never read the article because I was afraid to do so). I was most proud of the cover and years later at my eldest daughter's graduation from York House some the boys (now men) approached me with smiles on their faces.
I felt these same emotions of pleasure and excitement of attending a good class with a good teacher in a good school as I watched The History Boys in action. Every single boy was dead on his part and I immediately gave them the names of some of my ex classmates from school.
All of the boys, but one, are testicularly groped by Hector while riding with him on his motorcycle to some undisclosed destination. In the end Hector is found out (most knew anyway but looked the other way) and the ending incorporates a tidy one that somehow does not punish Hector for his lapse in morality. It is fate that punishes Hector with finality.
As I watched this play I remember a friend whose husband was assassinated (both were very young) during the regime of a dictatorial and military government. My friend has paraded having been the wife of the man and talked about this experience during all her life. She joins organizations that trumpet human rights of the left and close thereof. This is her cause. But she is a modern member of the new left as her credit cards are ready to help her consume. Irwin would probably have advised"her, "Read about Henry VIII then forget and push on!
If any one of those boys from Sheffield had been living here and had had their testicles groped I am sure we would be paying still for all kinds of treatment, and having to read all kinds of revealing biographies of having to have lived with the shame.
Surely both the play and the above paragraph are two extremes. The former one is a laissez fair approach while in the latter it never ends.
In Bennett's play everybody gets his eventual reward even the cynical Irwin (played by Irwin, and oh! so handsome when he removes his glasses). Is is touching? Is it symmetrical? Is it, that only the boy who is not groped Posner (nicely played by Daniel Karasik) somehow does not become the success that all his peers become?
The History Boys had all kinds of comic touches which I am sure are direct injections from Vancouver's funniest director and one of its funniest actors (watch out Donald Adams!), Dean Paul Gibson seen above left.
As I left home I imagined Gibson playing Irwin and wondered if he would have handled handsome and troublesome Dakin (played with gusto by Charlie Carrick) any better?
The History Boys runs until October 25.
A Thistle In The FallThursday, October 02, 2008
I have written before of Cynara cardunculus. My procupation in recent weeks has been the preparation of my Friday history of photography classes where I use no textbook and I must rely on reasearch, my memory and scanning photographs from my large collection of photo books. Many of the photographs are not to be found in the internet. The idea people have is that if it isn't in Google it doesn't exist. But when I find a photo from my memory I know to the contrary.
Today I have been at my computer and scanner all day and my eyes feel rectangular. Yesterday as I prepared for today's scanning agony I decided to scan (!) one of my drying thistles and try to see how I could make the images look 19th century.
The result upper left started with a straight scan (but with a sheet of letterhead paper on top of the thistle. That's the second image seen here. From there I reversed it so that it became an unearthly blue. I desaturated it (took the colour away) and then made it yellow/red again. The bonus image is an "antiqued" Anemone x hibrida.
My friend C.C. Humphreys actor, swordsman, historical novel author (and books for young people, too) invited me last night for his book launch. His latest Vlad - The Last Confession (Mc Arthur & Company) is a historical novel on Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler). He told us a story as we drank a blood infused cocktail and nibbled on things red like skewered meat, sausage and salami of all types, at The Cascade Room on 10th and Main Street. It seems he got drunk with his publisher in London as they lay the strategy for the next book. The publisher did not want Humphreys to write a fourth Jack Absolute novel (alas!). It had to be a novel on something completely different. "Who has not been done before? " he asked Humphreys? The publisher staggered to the bathroom and we came back he said, "I've got it. Vlad The Impaler, the historical Dracula."
If this novel is anything like Humphreys's dashing Jack Absolute novels I will be starting his latest soon. Humphreys insists that my favourite lore on Vlad Tepes (Impaler in Rumanian) is in the novel. I cannot wait.
It seems that sometime around 1459 the Turks demanded that Vlad pay tribute. He refused and waged battle. The Turkish delegation that had been sent to demand the tribute refused to remove their turbans in homage to him saying their religion forbad it. The Impaler had the turbans nailed to the heads of the offending Turks.
I doubt that Vlad Tepes might have ever wielded a modern cavalry sabre (it seems it was invented in the 10th Century by the Hungarians) like the one C.C. Humphreys is posing with here for my photograph. But I do think that the added red wash on my original b+w photograph shows that Humphreys might just volunteer for the lead role as soon as his novel becomes the film it deserves to be! His acting pal Christopher Gaze would be fair game to play his father.