Don Homero Aridjis - The Butterfly Man
Friday, May 06, 2016
I first met Homero Aridjis
, The Butterfly Man in 1993
when he visited Vancouver. Since then we have become friends. In some of my own
visits to Mexico City I am always invited for lunch at his home by his wife
It is difficult to pin down the Contepec, Michoacán-born man
as he is a complex mixture of diplomat, environmentalist, journalist and
poet/novelist. The latter combination is deadly. To read the prose of a poet be
it Jorge Luís Borges or The Butterfly Man, leads you to re-reading soaring
passages over and over. Many of his novels have been translated into English
and the bulk of his poetry here in British Columbia by George McWhirter.
It was in his Mexico City home in Lomas de Chapultepec that
The Butterfly Man told me the story of his philosopher friend Ramón Xirau
calling him to tell him that when he left his house he could not breathe. Xirau
and The Butterfly Man organized the Grupo de Los Cien
which pioneered the idea
of limiting the circulation of automobiles in Mexico City to license plates
that alternated between odd and even. Soon the organization was pushing for the
protection not only of the atmospheric environment of one of the largest and
most polluted cities of the world but to also saving endangered animal species
including whales and turtles.
But dear to The Butterfly Man were the Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) that wintered near his home town on the Mexican Oyamel
fir trees (Abies religiosa).
When I first met The Butterfly Man my garden butterfly bush
) was completely covered by Monarchs in August. By the
beginning of the 21st
century there were the odd three of four. At
the the time (when I first met The Butterly Man) there was a great ignorance on
where Ontario butterflies wintered. Strangely The Butterfly Man told me that
they did not knwow where the wintering Monarchs came from. Once this
communication disconnect was fixed new efforts were made, guided and led by The
Butterfly Man who personally visited Mexican presidents and urged them to set aside
Oyamel forests in Michoacán as places that could not be logged.
Of his efforts The Butterfly Man has written many a lovely
poem of the dazzling sight of millions of butterflies arriving at his home town
of Contepec to winter and how the Oyamel’s vibrated as if injected by LSD.
But it seems that it has been to no avail and The Butterlfly
Man has again warned us all via the Huffington Post.
A Tourist In My Own Land
Thursday, April 14, 2016
We (my Rosemary and two daughters) moved from Mexico City to Vancouver in 1975. On contract
I have worked for the CBC, Canadian Pacific Limited, Air Canada and for
Vancouver Magazine. I have photographed politicians, mayors, hoods, cops,
stars, directors, dancers and more.
And yet I look at the mountains (with snow or without) with
the eyes of a tourist. In fact I have felt like a tourist all these years. I
feel I don’t belong.
My trip to Buenos Aires this Thursday will bring a
temporary relief of being with relatives and friends and all in a city that
will be recognizable. There is something to be said for the routine of the
That is not the case in Vancouver. It was only today
(Wednesday) that the City of Vancouver Twitter page posted a question about did
we know that there were two previous incarnations of the Cambie Street Bridge.
My guess is that nobody at City Hall has the memory for the fact that (at least
the second one) it was previously called the Connaught Bridge.
We live in a city with an escaping memory. As the carpet
is rolled out the other end is being rolled in.
When I am in Buenos Aires I will tell everybody about the
charms of the city where I now live but it will be difficult to explain my
sense of detachment (alienation, even) for a city where everything works, there
is a steady 110 volts at the outlets (at an unwavering 60 cycles). It will be difficult to explain, too them to understand that the polarization the plagues my former country of birth does not
exist in Vancouver...yet.
The two pictures here I took of Jo-Ann (my former routine
monthly subject on a Thursday) on the roof of my studio on Granville and
Robson. The Farmer Building is gone and when I walk by I feel like a carrier
Phone Sex With My Wife
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
I have yet to board my Air Canada airplane to Buenos Aires
and I already miss my Rosemary.
It was at her urging (and nagging) that I am going for two
weeks to the city of my birth. I am looking forward to the warmth (lots of the
outward kind) from my relatives and friends. Men, after you have been introduced
to them will kiss you on the cheek with no compunction when you say goodbye. I miss that
sort of thing here with those cold-as-their-tap-water Vancouverians.
Perhaps this coldness is not only of this city but a
Canadian trademark and a result of the serious Scottish background of
As a Latin American I show passion for stuff
and don’t keep it inside.I have been known to throw, dishes, phones and toasters. I get angry. And I have cried.
My Rosemary is not like that. She is shy, reserved and
not known for hugging me in public (and rarely in private). And yet…
Here I am missing the warmth that is in her that after 48
years of marriage I know she has. My mother was similar to Rosemary. She used
to say, “Love is not kissing and hugging. Love is doing.”
Rosemary worries about me. She may place a chocolate bar
on my bedroom table or buy me some special juice I like. She is checking that I
have clean clothes to pack and she urged me to buy new jeans now that my waist
size has gone from 38 inches to 34. She has made sure I am taking all necessary
pills. And best of all she inherited from my grandmother (on a roundabout
way?) her ability to pack a suitcase.
Rosemary has made sure I have spare storage cards for my
Fuji X-E1 and reminded me to buy a second battery.
In short I am all set.
But I want to almost (but not that bashfully) reveal that
on the phone, abroad or at home, my Rosemary oozes with warmth. Had someone
invented something beyond virtual phone sex, by now we would have at least a
I have not yet left but I am ready to come home and to
hug my Rosemary and tell her how sorry I am that I will not be here for April
19th which happens to be her birthday.
Fiddler On The Roof In New Westminster & Peach Yoghurt In Buenos Aires
Monday, April 11, 2016
|Dallas Murray Richards, 97, Lauren Elizabeth Stewart, 12, April 11, 2015|
Royal City Musical Theatre’s production of Joseph Stein
(Book) Jerry Bock (Music),Sheldon Harnick Lyrics originally produced on the NY
Stage directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins of Fiddler on the Roof was a
bittersweet experience for my granddaughter Lauren (13) and I.
Before the musical started I indicated to Lauren that we
should get up from our very good seats up front and go back a few to greet
Muriel Richards who was sitting a few rows behind us. Lauren understood as it
was in last years’production of My Fair Lady
(by the Royal City Musical Theatre) that we sat
next to Muriel and Dal Richards. Since I had photographed Richards
he was especially pleasant to Lauren and promised her he would give her tips on
how to play her school instrument of choice, the clarinet. This was not to be
as Dal Richards died last year.
In spite of our feeling blue we enjoyed ourselves immensely and
I must add that rarely do you have a director who happens to also do the
choreography. This is the case of Valerie Easton whom I knew in the late 70s as
a CBC jazz dancer who appeared in many variety shows.
During the whole show it was difficult not to note the
choreography which was tops.
And here I must interject with what to me in which I admit
(and not embarrassed in the least) that is an admission that RCMT’s Fiddler on
the Roof was the first ever for me. I knew the tunes but had no idea of the
plot or anything else. Lauren promised to keep her mouth zipped as she had
recently seen a very good production of the musical at Eric Hamber Secondary. I
asked her why them musical was called Fiddler on the Roof and she answered that
there was a most slim connection.
Now for this sort of thing I have always been late. It was
only when I was 21 that I tried yoghurt (peach flavoured) in my Buenos Aires.
Until then I thought it was rotten milk.
As a Latin American I could never understand the North
American concept of actors suddenly beginning to sing in what is called the musical.
Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and many musicals that I have subsequently attended
at the Arts Club Theatre Company have helped to make me open to this strange
mix of song, dance and acting.
The singers/actors/dancers were all superb as was the lead
Warren Kimmel. The sets were sumptuous and kept moving around and showing
facets of all their sides.
Watching Fiddler on the Roof I can understand why RCMT
specializes in one production per year at the Massey Theatre in New
Westminster. With the exception of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and perhaps the
Vancouver Playhouse no large musical production like this one could fly. And
consider, furthermore that there was a musical ensemble of 19 souls which did include
This sort of thing is now really unique to the RCMT's intimate liaison with
the Massey Theatre.
But, there is one little wrinkle on all this. Every time we
drive on Marine Way we never find that famous 6th Avenue Exit. I can
now report that it does not exist going or coming unless you are going to
navigate the Queensborough Bridge. Lauren patiently watched me avoid getting
lost getting back although we returned via Richmond.
All in all it was a beautiful evening in which I shared
moments with my granddaughter that she will one day re-tell to her children.
I am about to leave on a two-week trip to my hometown of
Buenos Aires so I have been thinking about Argentina a lot. It has suddenly
struck me why in Argentina the euphemism for Jewish people is Ruso! Fiddler on
the Roof has further added to my education.
Fiddler on the Roof runs until April 23d.
Of Dead Cities & Of Living Ones
Sunday, April 10, 2016
|Retiro Station - Buenos Aires|
In recent days I have come to the realization that some of
the cities of my memory, cities in which I lived have died.
The first city of my memory was and is Buenos Aires. It
was and is a city of trains and subways, of smells of brake lining dust rusting on railroad tracks. Of smells at noon of meat being roasted in the pits by the
window of downtown restaurants. Of smells of mate and café cortados and medias
lunas. Of pizza and moscato.
My mother who had a keen sense of smell said I smelled of
an Englishman and that coming back from trips abroad Buenos Aires she instantly sensed a smell
of meat being roasted as soon as she walked on the airport tarmac of Ezeiza.
In that second city of my life my mother said that it
smelled of tortillas being heated on comales. The unwashed masses in buses she
said had the scent of catinga (an Argentine word for the smell of a horse).
Then there was the city of Veracruz which was a combination
of humidity, sewer water and ship bunker fuel mixed in the port and that whiff
of salt from the sea and the nearby vegetation during the powerful nortes.
There was Nueva Rosita, Coahuila which was not a city so
my mother could not identify any particular smell to it. She never went to
visit me in Austin so that small city did not register with her sense of smell.
It was at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City where I met
the second Canadian of my life (after my Rosemary).When Dorothy Barkley found
out I was going to Vancouver (she was in Mexico to visit a friend in jail) she
poetically described Vancouver as a city of mountains, rivers, bridges and the
sea. She was right. She did not tell me that Vancouverites were as cold as their pure tap watter.
To me Vancouver smells (there is a hint of it in my
nostrils!) of that pure tap water, something that Vancouverites might take for
To me a city has to be part of my life. I could never
live in Lillooet like my oldest daughter. I could not live without theatre,
dance, art, music and the noise of big city. To me a city is a repetition of
the Greek concept of the City State. To be part of a core of humanity you have
to live in a city.
I am shortly going to the city of my youth. As soon as I
check in to my “hotel de mala muerte
” (a sort of refined flee bag) I will be
one block from the Subte. Within seconds I will be able to go anywhere without getting
lost. Like a bird going south I will know where everything is.
calles de Buenos Aires
de turba y de ajetreo,
calles desganadas del barrio,
invisibles de habituales,
de penumbra y de ocaso
aquellas más afuera
de árboles piadosos
austeras casitas apenas se aventuran,
por inmortales distancias,
perderse en la honda visión
y de llanura.
el solitario una promesa
millares de almas singulares las pueblan,
ante Dios y en el tiempo
Oeste, el Norte y el Sur
desplegado–y son también la patria–las calles:
versos que trazo
—Jorge Luis Borges
edición 1969 de Fervor de Buenos Aires)
Buenos Aires, more than any other city of the world, is a
city that has been blessed and defined by the tango. Americans and their jazz
cannot argue about that. And Jorge Luís Borges, more than any poet that this
literary amateur can boast about wrote at length of Buenos Aires and of
definite and defined city corners. It is impossible to walk up Calle Corrientes
without running into the ghosts of tango and Borges.
My soul is in the streets
of Buenos Aires.
Not the greedy streets
jostling with crowds and traffic,
but the neighborhood streets where nothing is happening,
almost invisible by force of habit,
rendered eternal in the dim light of sunset,
and the ones even farther out,
empty of comforting trees,
where austere little houses scarcely venture,
overwhelmed by deathless distances,
losing themselves in the deep expanse
of sky and plains.
For the solitary one they are a promise
because thousands of singular souls inhabit them,
unique before God and in time
and no doubt precious.
To the West, the North, and the South
unfold the streets–and they too are my country;
within these lines I trace
may their flags fly.
Translation by Stephen Kessler
In recent days I have come to the realization that some
of the cities of my memory, cities in which I lived have died.
I cannot return to Mexico City or Austin. Mexico City is
the second city of my grandmother and mother, of my Tía Fermina and Tío Luís.
They are dead. It was the city of Raul Guerrero Montemayor, my friend, mentor
and godfather of my youngest daughter Hilary. I saw him two years ago weeks
before he died. As I left he had tears in his eyes. I did, too knowing that his
death would be the death of a former city I had loved.
|Ángel de Independencia, Mexico D.F.|
Austin, the city in which the Roman Catholic Brothers of
Holy Cross made me into a man and gave me an education that still dazzles me
with its death is dead. My religious mentor, friend Brother Edwin Reggio,
C.S.C. died a few weeks after I last saw him two years ago. Nearby in a house
by a damn my friend Howard Houston died last year.
I cannot return to Austin or Mexico City . Certainly not
alone. I might visit with my Rosemary or with a friend and show them around. But
alone would be like visiting a cemetery. In fact at the Assumption Cemetery on
one side of St. Edward’s University are little white crosses, all in rows
marking the remains of Brother Edwin and all those other brothers that
indelibly marked my life for the better.
So I return to my Buenos Aires, a city with trains, with cooking
meat, a city with a subway, a city with family and friends, a city that unlike
Vancouver is still recognizable of its past even though it is populated by ghosts
like my father, uncles and aunts. When I walk up Corrientes Piazzolla will be
in my inner ear full of melancholy and the adventure of the dissonance of the
big city. Perhaps I might even pass through the ghost of me from my past or of my Susy, now dead
|Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. Assumption Cemetery, Austin Texas|
will be happy, before soon, I, too will be part of a dead city of which I will
no longer have a memory for. And some visitors, perhaps one of my daughters or granddaughters the city will be alive if I am part of their memory.
On my last days in Buenos Aires I will be wondering how I
see Vancouver, my city now. I will be wondering when my Rosemary picks me up at
the airport what my olfactory enclined mother would say my city smells of.
Certainly not of French fries she said all American cities reminded her of.