Fourth Of July - Glory, Lincoln & Goosebumps
Saturday, July 04, 2015
|Private Edwin Francis Jamieson - 2nd Louisiana Regiment - died in the 7-Day Peninsular Campaign March-July 1862 |
Time and again I have written here of how in my youth I
became interested and then almost obsessed on anything related to the US Civil
War. I wrote that it began at the Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires. I opened a
book of American Heritage and saw for the first time the photographs of
soldiers and generals and of dead in battle. The photographs of the soldiers,
in stark and sharp b+w, staring at me from the page did not look different from
the men and young men walking in the outside Calle Florida.
With all the uproar in the US on the terrible massacre or
innocents in the Charleston, South Carolina church I wanted to show my
granddaughter Lauren, 13 a bit of the reality as I see it and some knowledge of
what led to that terrible civil war. In Lauren’s house they do not have cable
TV nor do they get daily newspapers. As far as I know Lauren has little
knowledge of world events and her geography is spotty.
On July 1 we saw the beginning of Glory
the film about the heroic 54th
all blacks. The film the first really good film by Matthew Broderick was a
preview of a man who has become one of the best American stage actors.
The film was too intense for us to see in one sitting so we
postponed the ending to today, July 4.
After the film I showed Lauren, Rosemary and Hilary one of
my prized books about the US Civil War My Brother’s Face – Portraits of the
Civil War In Photographs, Diaries and Letters by Charles Phillips and Alan
Axelrod with Foreword by Brian C. Pohanka.
I believe that Lauren may have understood my idea of the
starkness of these portraits that were taken before 1865.
After the film I lured them into the living room and popped
the Copland Lincoln Portrait
. The work in question is over 15 minutes long and
Copland’s style of music always elicits from my Rosemary a, “I find this
disturbing.” When Charleston Heston began to declaim Lincoln’s words there were
not able to identify the man. But when I did Hilary immediately commented how
Heston had been a right-wing guns kind of guy.
|Ulysses Simpson Grant|
I explained that even though I was not an American the
Lincoln Portrait always gives me goose bumps.
I have written here how my feelings of belonging to one
country or another are mixed with the confusion of memories of having lived in
Buenos Aires, Texas and Mexico. Now in Vancouver with the recent and inexorable
influx of immigrants I find that I am an alien in the city that represents the
place where I was made into a Canadian.
I have always felt very Argentine and very American.
Strangely I have never associated in belonging to Mexico a place where I was
reared into manhood. I wrote here
about feeling Texan. Of late with all the shenanigans
of red-neck Texans I feel less so and perhaps more American is the better
Even today the images of the US Civil war beckon me and then
penetrate my heart. It is impossible not to look at Alexander Gardner’s
portrait of Lincoln on the CD cover without being sucked in to the humanity of
To make this brief and final: this non-American spent a
perfect 4th of July in the company of loved ones and I hope that
someday they too, will understand the power of the portrait.
Death - Decay - But No Whiff Of It
Friday, July 03, 2015
|Rosa 'Charles de Mills' - July 3 2015|
It was around December of 1964 and I was a new conscript
recruit in the Argentine Navy. I had no rank and by the serial number that was
assigned to me fellow sailors with slightly older numbers out-ranked me. Thus I
was dispatched to a capilla ardiente
funeral (open casket) in the Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires. I was there to
stand guard by the body of some Argentine Navy non-commissioned officer. I had
pulled the short straw, the only one!
December temperatures can go over 40 Celsius in what is the
height of the Argentine summer. I stood in attention for 6 hours surrounded by
the smell of decaying gladioli and other flowers. If you have an average sense
of smell (mine us unusually good) the smell of flowers in a cemetery can never
hide the smell of putrefaction inherent to all such mortuaries.
For years I have equated the human body to that of a
refrigerator. The food inside a refrigerator will begin to smell soon after the
electricity goes or the life of the compressor. Electricity is to that
refrigerator what the spark of life is to a human being.
|Rosa 'Charles de Mills' - July 3 2015|
The gladioli at Chacarita have few exceptions. One would
be lavender and the other some of my roses. Some roses retain their fragrance
long after the blossom has withered.
Of this the Flemish and the Dutch knew something in the
17th century and earlier. Painters of the time would add in a corner
to their still lifes, a decaying blossom of a rose or a tulip. Sometimes they
would include a human skull as a reminder of the ever presence of death.
In the last couple of years while I have still scanned
the best roses and other flowers of my garden when they are at a peak I have
learned to appreciate how some roses, particularly the Gallicas, keep their
shape but turn usually into darker colours. Many are still fragrant.
|Rosa 'Charles de Mills'- July 3 2015|
The rose that to me is the best long after it has reached
that perfection of shape, colour and fragrance is Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’. Because it is a Gallica it only blooms
once. It is virtually thorn less. Another great feature is that it grows many
runners. After a year if I divide them out from the parent plant they produce
very active and fast growing copies.
In the death of the flowers the leaves are nice and
green. Unlike we who are of a higher order in the scheme of life I must point
out that Charles de Mills has us beat. We live and die. Charles de Mills,
lives, goes dormant and lives again. With its runners if it is in the right
place I will survive for years and never with any whiff of decay.
|Rosa 'Charles de Mills' - June 7 2013|
Canada Day - A Bittersweet Kind Of Day
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
Canada Day was a bittersweet kind of day. Lauren, 13 and her mother Hilary came
over in the latter part of the afternoon for my barbecued chicken wings, turmeric
rice with grilled red peppers, Hungarian style cucumber salad and my very
strong and very popular (with the family) iced tea from scratch. For dessert we
had mangoes and watermelon. The film we saw was Glory with Matthew Broderick,
Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
It was a bittersweet
kind of day because Hilary’s sister, Rebecca, 17 simply does not visit us
anymore. It was a day at the beach for her.
|Papi & Casi-Casi - Photograph Lauren Stewart|
It was a
bittersweet kind of day because Lauren was 13 last Saturday. When I tested the
birthday present idea of a makeup kit I was bombarded by stiff resistance from
my daughter Hilary who said, “This is my second and last child. I want to keep
her for a bit longer as a young girl. She will eventually want makeup, a
cellphone and the rest of the stuff that teenagers want. Let’s keep her as she
is for a while longer.
It was a
bittersweet kind of day because Lauren’s disruptive sister Rebecca is making
Lauren grow up fast. I can see it behind her eyes and I can sense it in her
long moments of silence and her reticence to contribute to conversations.
It was a
bittersweet kind of day as I watered the garden and deadheaded my roses
wondering (perhaps even knowing now) that this is our last summer in our
Athlone garden. The promise of money in the bank, with the freedom to go
wherever desire, prompts us is but a bittersweet if slightly pleasant thought.
It was a
bittersweet kind of day that was less so when my Lauren snapped my picture with
Rosemary’s Casi-Casi (alas! I closed my eyes!). She used a Fuji Instax Mini 90.
In the middle
of the night a few days before her birthday last Saturday I had the idea of
this camera as the perfect gift. I had seen this unusual camera at Leo’s and
Jeff Gin had kindly explained how it worked. He has repeatedly done the same with my Fuji X-E1 which he sold me at Leo's.
day and age of digital cameras a squarish little camera (not quite so little)
that uses Fuji (spit it out) instant film is a startling anachronism. More so
when if you look in the back there is not little screen to see what you have
just taken. The camera will shoot 10 exposures (one 10-exposure roll costs
$13.00) in a little credit card sized format with a white border on which you
can write whatever you want. The camera has a flash, a macro setting, a bulb (long
exposure) capability, two shutter releases (one for vertical shooting the other
for horizontal) and it has a few more important features like a self-timer so
Lauren can include herself and her friends in photographs.
|Clematis florida 'Sieboldii'- Photograph Lauren Stewart|
As I saw
it, and only Jeff Gin understood it, here is a camera that gives you something
you can hold, give away, throw away if you want to or put it in an album. But
most important it is not going to be buried in some hard drive to never be seen
Perhaps the lowly shoebox will come back in fashion.
giving Lauren advice (little advice) as she needs it. I have told her to avoid
hard contrast situations. Judging from her picture of Rosemary’s Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’ I believe
she is getting the message. I am now going to have to introduce her to the
evening is nice and hot. I like to be in bed on the sheets with nothing on. It
is luxurious. It reminds me of nights when Rosemary and I would drive from a
chilly Mexico City in our Beetle to arrive late at night (usually a Friday
after our teaching jobs) to my mother’s house in tropical Veracruz. While there
is no smell of humidity and sea air wafting through our bedroom window the
fragrance of our roses will do just fine.
to diminish that bittersweet kind of day? I could start by seeing how quietly happy Lauren is with her new "Polaroid" camera.
Man In The High Castle & The Devil In The Stanley Park Zoo
Monday, June 29, 2015
In the early 80s I had the strange idea (I have forgotten
the circumstances that led me to do it) to read every book by Philip K. Dick
that I could find. What made it easy was that McGill our local public library
(we lived in Burnaby) had over 50 novels and short story volumes of the author.
I remember that the last (I read around 39) novel I read (by that point I was
feeling unhinged) was The Man Who Japed. To this day my youngest daughter
Hilary who was around 11 at the time will tell you that to jape is to joke.
One of the books that stayed with me was The Man in the High
Castle which is an alternative history in which the Japanese and the Germans
win WWII ( an extended war that ends in 1947) and take over the United States.
But my favourite Dick book is the second part of what is now
called the VALIS Trilogy. The novel is
called The Divine Invasion.
My favourite reference from this novel:
“Let us go,” she said, “hand in hand. Like Beethoven and
Goethe: two friends. Take us to Stanley Park in British Columbia and we will
observe the animals there, the wolves, the great white wolves. It is a
beautiful park, and Lionsgate Bridge is beautiful; Vancouver, British Columbia
is the most beautiful city on Earth.”
“That is true,” he said. “I had forgotten.”
“And after you view it I want you to ask yourself if you
would destroy it or change it in any way. I want you to inquire of yourself if
you would, upon seeing such earthly
beauty, bring into existence your great and terrible day in which all the arrogant
and evil-doers shall be chaff, set ablaze, leaving them neither root nor branch,
“OK Emmanuel said.”
“Let’s go look at the wolves,” Zina said. “They are such
beautiful animals. And we can ride the little train. We can visit all the
In the Stanley Park Zoo, the pair release a baby goat, a
kid. The kid is thankful but we soon find out that he is the devil.
Today as I was on my way to pick up a copy of Matthew
Broderick and Denzel Washington’s Glory
(about a heroic group of black US Civil
War Soldiers) I passed on 34th
Avenue not far from Granville. I saw
some film trucks, police motorcycles and a sign that read The Man in the High
I stopped. I got out of my car and approached a policeman with
sunglasses and a film crew guy. They soon knew I was a friendly kind of guy and
informed me that sure enough after a successful airing (an inadequate use of
that word in these contemporary times) in January 2015 it is not being made
into a series. The young film crew guy told me (after I had explained the Dick
had lived in Vancouver for a while), “It is appropriate that we are doing this
After that I quoted from The Divine Invasion and finished it
with, “and the Devil is a baby goat living in the Stanley Park Zoo.”
By this time the cautious motorcycle policeman smiled and pointed at the house behind him that had a flag on a pole. It seemed to be an American flag until I noticed that it was a startling variant. Embedded in it was a Swastika.
My copy of Dick's book (the one scanned here) is probably worthless as it is a Book -of-the-Month Club edition. I know for sure I would not part with it or feed the Stanley Park Zoo goats with it.
Philip K Dick in Vancouver
71 Philip K. Dick items
in the Burnaby McGill Public Library
The Human Factor
Sunday, June 28, 2015
As I must soon thin out my book collection (not a collection
but a lifelong accumulation) I glance at my book shelves and the piles of books
on the floor (Douglas Coupland
would approve of that home design choice) I know
it will be tough.
But some of them are out and out simple. I cannot part
with them. One of them is a beautifully rebound in leather by a French book
maker in Mexico of my mother’s The Power and the Glory
If any of you have ever been in Mexico you might
understand that light is special in the country. One of the best
cinematographers in the world was the Mexican Gabriel Figueroa
worked in Hollywood, too especially with John Huston and John Ford. But one of
my favourite films of all time (with luminous b+w photography by Figueroa) is
John Ford’s, 1947, The Fugitive
was the renaming of Greene’s The Labyrinthine
(US title) and The Power and the Glory
(the British title).
The film stars Henry Fonda, Dolores del Río
Bond and Pedro Armendáriz
, perhaps the best Mexican actor of all time. In The
Fugitive he plays a most scary police chief who is looking for the priest
during the prohibition for saying mass in the 20s.
I photographed Ivette Hernández, who hails from León,
Guanajuato for a couple of years imposing on her (and she imposed on me) our
nostalgia for Mexico, its ways, its scenery, etc.
Here (even though I have a superb version in b+w) I want
to show you my impression of Dolores del Río in The Fugitive. Ivette is wearing
my mother’s red shawl before I had any idea of my red shawl project here. The
clouds in the background are fake. I projected them against my studio wall with
a focusing spotlight and a cloud gobo.
The Blue, The Gray & The Black
Saturday, June 27, 2015
|Lunch on the deck of the U.S. Monitor - note black man on foreground right - Mathew Brady|
I am an Argentine born man of mixed heritage (English,
Spanish, Chinese and Basque). All my life I attended American schools
(elementary, high school and college) so I was subjected to a thorough
immersion into American History. It was particularly soat St. Edward’s High
School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin, where my history teacher was
Brother Francis Barrett, C.S.C. a most liberal and intelligent member of the
Congregation of Holy Cross.
explanations on what led to the American Civil War were as accurate as they
could have been at the time in the mid 50s.
It was in the mid 50s that I went with my 9th grade class to Washington DC
. I remember that all the outdoor stalls and curio shops carried merchandise that was evenly divided between the Confederate and Union army. Blue or gray hats and flags of both were on sale everywhere.
I have written many times here how as an 8-year-old
(perhaps 9) I saw my first book with pictures of US Civil War soldiers at the
Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires. I was struck by the contemporary and stark look
of the soldiers who looked like men that with fewer beards might have been walking
on the outside on Calle Florida. I was further startled in realizing that these
men had been dead for at least 85 years. I became from that point most
interested in anything I could find out about the war. I remember distinctly in
grade in having written a book report on the role of U.S.
Grant in the bloody battle of Shiloh. Since then I became a fan of the stories about the Civil War by Ambrose Bierce
and I have read Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage
It is important that I note that while I might have
harboured some sort of admiration for General Lee that my heart and interests
where with the Union Army of Abraham Lincoln
and his generals, in particular
Ulysses S. Grant
I was also attracted to the sound of the names of some of
the battles such as Chickamauga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Shiloh. I know by rote all
the place names at Gettysburg.
|Taylor - 78th U.S. Colored Troops part of General Ben Butler's Corps d'Afrique|
But I have to confess that even if Brother Francis
in explaining about the origins of the war in relation to slavery somehow the
Civil War had only two colours, blue and gray. There was no black anywhere.
And I must confess, further with some embarrassment that it
was so until 1989 when Rosemary and I
went to a fine little movie theatre in Port Townsend and saw Edward Zwick’s Glory with Denzel Washington (playing
Private Silas Trip), Matthew Broderick (Col. Robert Gould Shaw) and Morgan
Freeman as Sgt. Major John Rawlins. This film which finally showed intimations
of Mathew Broderick being a really good actor, was about the role of the 54th
Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (all black) in the battle of Fort
I am now a Canadian and as I see the turmoil behind the
acceptance and rejection of the Confederate battle flag I am having a small but
measurable internal issue with the idea of the removal of the name Robert E.
Lee from schools and streets. I know that particularly because those Civil War
photographs were in b+w they lacked the colour of blood and gore. Those battles
seemed to me (until now?) to have been fought between armies that at heart were
led by gentlemen. Just the protocol that Grant used in the surrender at Appomattox
is a good example of what I am trying to convey here. Will re-reading that
lovely novel, Richard Adams’s Traveller
(Lee’s horse in retirement recounts his
experience in war with a barn cat) be the same again?
Would John Brown, now, be seen as sane man?
|Members of Company E., 4th U.S.Colored Troops formed in Baltimore in 1863|
Luckily I am not an American so I can disassociate myself a
tad from all that guilt and historical revisionism.
But I am doing my part in making sure that at least my
granddaughter Lauren, 13, will be aware of the true colours of the US Civil War.
On Canada Day, July 1 after our backyard barbecue (complete with my famous iced
tea) we will watch Glory.
Obama's swearing in and Lincoln