Arthur & Arthur
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Since my photo file is in alphabetical order Vancouver Alderman Harry Rankin is right next to Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin. But I have odder bedfellows that happen to be together by accident. Today I wanted to write about the pull that Mexico has with me. Rosemary, Rebecca and I are going to Morelia in August. Last year we went to Guanajuato. So I was fishing through my 1977 files and found a bonanza of photos of my trip to the Mayan ruins in Yucatán, Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca. There in the files with El Caracol
( the Mayan "observatory" in Chichen Itzá) I found a Kodachrome I must have taken at about the same time of Arthur Erickson's Museum of Anthropology. The Kodachrome is in much better shape than the medium format colour negative of El Caracol. With the Arthur Erickson restrospective show at the Vancouver Art Gallery I decided that I might as well make today's posting my own mini retrospective. The portrait of Arthur (I know him well enough and I have photographed him so many times that I can call him that) in his leather jacket I took at the museum of Anthropology in 1984. I was at the museum and hour earlier and I took Polaroids of about 5 locations. He picked this one because of the angle. Here the architect does not compete with any artifacts (Bill Read's Raven) and all you see is his building. The second photo I took in 1994.
There is a Rebecca story here. We were invited to a garden party at Arthur's three years ago. While we were there Rebecca sat in a chair in Arthur's living room. It was pointed out to me that it was Arthur's favourite chair. When I introduced Arthur as Arthur to Rebecca, Rebecca said, "That cannot be. He has no hair." I knew that Rebecca thought I meant King Arthur (the only other Arthur that I know that is just plane Arthur). Arthur (Erickson) looked at me and asked, "What did she say?" Fortunately Arthur is little bit hard of hearing.
J. Robert Janes & His Paris
Friday, June 02, 2006
While wearing a pair of immaculate white cotton gloves, I inspected Spies for Dinner
(1984), the juvenile thriller by J. Robert Janes. The Vancouver Public Library’s special collection of rare and notable books is housed, behind glass doors, on the top floor of the Robson Street main branch. Here you will not find Geology and the New Global Tect
onics (1976), The Grea
t Canadian Outback
(1978) or Airphoto Interpretation and the Canadian Landscape
(1984). These and a few other books by J. Robert Janes are in the lesser stacks downstairs. Nobody knows why Spies for Dinner
is part of the Canadiana section of the Special Collection. I am told that it is the only copy in the Vancouver Public Library system. But then, I have come to understand that not much is known about J. Robert Janes.
I thank Baroness James of Holland Park (i.e. P.D. James) for my accidental discovery of the Niagara-on-the-Lake author. It was in 1994 that I found Carousel
between two copies of James’s The Children of Men at a local bookstore. Carousel
is a police procedural involving the challenged pairing of Chief Inspector Jean Louis St-Cyr of the Sureté Nationale and Gestapo Oberdetektiv Hermann Kohler. It is the occupied Paris of 1942 and as Janes points out in the introduction, even in times of war someone has to solve the everyday crimes of arson and murder. When the German army rolls into Paris, St-Cyr has to give up his black Citroen and his 1873 model, French Army Lebel revolver to Kohler. Both walk the tightrope of trying to please their respective bosses while maintaining their individual integrity. Somehow St-Cyr must hide his sympathy for the Resistance while Kohler hides his disdain for Hitler.
When I tell friends that my favourite Canadian author is Janes they look at me blankly, and then ask, “James who?” Yet whenever a new St-Cyr/Kohler novel is published glowing reviews appear by crime reviewers, Marilyn Stasio at the New York Times and Margaret Cannon at the Globe & Mail. Cannon understands the subtleties of the Janes series. While she praises their accurate portrayal of everyday life in France under the Occupier (Janes’s capitalization gives the word an eerie all-powerful connotation), she misses one of the astounding features of the St-Cyr/Kohler” novels. Cannon objects to, “…his penchant for setting the novels in the freezing French winter…” Cannon has not noticed that at the pace of almost a novel per year Janes places 11 of them within two months. The first in the series, Mayhem
(l992) begins at 3 a.m. on St-Cyr’s 52nd birthday on December 3d, 1942 and 11 novels later Flykiller (2002), begins at 2:47 a.m. Berlin Time on February 4, 1943 and of course it’s still winter! The cases are solved within a week and in the last pages the next case begins, announced usually in the form of an urgent telegram. We can guess the title (always one word titles) Karneval
of the next book. In Flykiller, St- Cyr hands over the telegram,
‘” Karneval,” Hermann. “Kolmar. Contact Kommandant Rasch. Hangings, Stalag III Elsas. Heil Hitler.’”
The more I tried to find information on Janes the more I became convinced he is a recluse. I asked Scott McIntyre (Douglas & McIntyre published the Janes take on the geological side of the Canadian landscape, The Great Canadian Ou
tback) if he had any memory of working with Janes. I saw the word difficult form in his mouth but no sound came out. He told me he didn’t remember anything. When I tried to find a bio in the Canadian Crime Writer’s Society web site a click on Janes did nothing. 10 letters to the editor that Janes sent to the Globe & Mail beginning in 1979 were the only personal tidbits I was able to find. The subjects ranged from complaints about noise and beer cans being thrown into his garden during the summer Shaw Festival to an extremely liberal stance against the censorship of the arts. The prospect of writing about the wonderful books of a mysterious, reclusive and even cranky author became attractive.
And then I sent a complaint to the Canadian Writer’s Society because of the missing biography. I received a reply from Cheryl Freedman, the Secretary-treasurer. When I explained what I was up to she offered, “Do you want me to forward this to Bob? He may want to get in touch with you himself. course that will mean that your concept of Bob won’t be mysterious at all.
My E-mail communication with Janes has been a pleasant, eye-opening experience. He told me it should not change my concept of him being mysterious. “Carry on if you wish, and it is absolutely true. I don’t think it’s true at all." He labours with each book for a year. Their plots, in some cases, seem to be so beautifully serpentine that only after a second reading have I finally figured their resolution. Janes finds time to garden in his 100 year old garden (“Always after 5 pm.”), write letters to the Globe, and coach lacrosse. There is a possibility that Janes, like St-Cyr, may play the euphonium, be an amateur boxer and be able to discern the different ingredients of a woman’s perfume. The latter is an important ability, as the women in the St-Cyr/Kohler books are exquisite femme fatales. On whose side is St-Cyr’s White Russian girlfriend? The Germans, or worse still the Resistance? Kohler keeps his two mistresses in the same house while his German wife jilts him for a French prisoner of war.
Janes didn’t always write. Born in 1935, he was a petroleum engineer in the 50s and later on a research engineer and field geologist. In 1976 he became a full-time writer. He has 5 adult children and his wife Gracia is an environmental activist. I believe that his early juvenile novels are responsible for the strangely adult-like but paradoxically realistic behaviour of the children, many victims, in the St-Cyr/Kohler books. St-Cyr always has tender “dialogues” with the dead victims and when these are young children, somehow their brutal murder and the brutal presence of the Occupier is softened for you the reader while decidedly breaking your heart. For new Janes readers the dialogue of the novels can seem odd at times. Some Janes reviewers have even wondered if English is his first language. As a boy in Toronto Janes lived next to some Belgian refugees. Before they spoke in English they had to think in French. Kohler learned French as a young man as St-Cyr learned German. Janes goes trough the added task of thinking in those languages before his characters speak the English of the novels. For me this oddness increases my reading pleasure.
Kohler has two sons in the Wehrmacht who are fighting on the Russian Front. The reason Janes has plunked his novels into those three months in 1942, 1943 is that they follow the inevitable defeat of the German army in Stalingrad and the death of his sons. To keep himself awake from one case to the next Kohler pops what Janes whimsically calls Messerschmitt Benzedrines.
Kohler and St-Cyr develop a rapport (ever more quickly in wartime), while strained sometimes, that is so close that it is almost as if they were each other’s favourite old shoes. This relationship fits and feels true because Janes has a daily relationship with them. He wrote to me, “St-Cyr and Kohler are very close to me, my having been with them for nearly 14 years now. Every day, but Sunday, and then, that, often too.” Of his method of writing Janes explained, “I write not from above, as a god looking down on my characters (like most writers) but rather, right on the ground, in their shoes, and through their hearts and minds. I just wish St-Cyr and Kohler would quit taking me out behind the woodshed. That 2x4 of theirs hurts!” I just hope that J. Robert Janes can keep taking more pain. It makes me happy. And when I think of Paris I always think of a St-Cyr and Kohler Paris. This view of the Paris Opera that I took with b+w infrared film haunts me. Is the Gestapo around the corner?
The St-Cyr/Kohler Series
Mayhem, Carousel, Kaleidoscope, Salamander, Mannequin, Dollmaker, Stonekiller, Sandman, Gypsy, Madrigal, Beekeeper, Flykiller. If you can find a pristine first edition of Mayhem (Constable Books) it could cost you $350.J. Robert Janes
The Pensacola Skyhawks
Thursday, June 01, 2006
My story of the Pensacola Skyhawks really began in 1951 in Buenos Aires when Narciso Ramos, the Minister of the Philippine Legation in Argentina (the Philippines did not have an embassy yet), picked me up in his dark blue 1950 Lincoln. He was taking me to a Harlem Globetrotters game at the Luna Park. Inside the car there was a young man smartly dressed in a West Point military uniform. Narciso Ramos became Foreign Minister under Marcos many years later and the young man in the uniform was his son, Fidel who was elected president of the Philippines in 1992. Narciso Ramos had two daughters, Leticia and Gloria. Leticia Ramos-Shahani was a senator during Marcos's presidency. Gloria, who was extremely beautiful, married a dashing US Naval aviator. The aviator, Aldo Jacinto DaRodda and Gloria would vist us in Mexico in the 50s and 60s and by then he was a flight instructor at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
In 1965 as a conscript of the Argentine Navy I was given the task of translating into Spanish the maintenance and operating manuals of the obsolescent McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks that the Armada República Argentina had just purchased from the US. I got to know these planes very well. An American Marine Corps pilot (he had the shakes as a result of fighting in the Korean war) explained everything I had to know about the planes.
During a chance viewing of a CBC TV news report during the Malvinas War I saw an Argentine Navy A-4Q Skyhawk streak very low over the horizon and suddenly there was a puff and the plane disappeared, just like that. I found that I felt no emotion for the Argentine pilot but I was devastated by the loss of what I had come to consider as one of my airplanes.
Four years ago I went to Pensacola, Florida on a travel magazine assignment. I had my heart set in going to the Pensacola Naval Air Station to visit the museum. I was thrilled to see four Blue Angel Skyhawks suspended dramatically from the museum ceiling. There was also a beautiful old Spanish fort inside the base (bottom, right).
Driving to Pensacola I took, perhaps, my most technically difficult photograph. Try to photograph a low flying Skyhawk while driving!
Blue Bathrooms and White Cherries
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Years ago when Yugoslavia was Yugoslavia and Marshal Josip Broz Tito was in power I went on a tour with travel writer Garry Marchant. He had gone on enough travel junkets that It thought that nothing could really surprise him. But when we flew to Zagreb from Toronto, even Garry was surprised. I would define real "First Class" to be an airline that serves Champagne before you take off and is still serving it when you are landing. That was Yugoslavia Airlines. If I were to chose the four most beautiful cities of the world I would first start with Guanajuato, Mexico, Toledo in Spain, and Dubrovnik in Croatia. But I would eliminate the first two and settle for Dubrovnik (top, left). One reason is that in Dubrovnik you will find few Mexicans or Spaniards. In nearby island of Lokrum two things charmed me for loving the region. In 1859 Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg was the owner of the island and he came for a visit. In his house they have kept an ash tray with ashes and the butt of one of his cigars. Maximilian became emperor of Mexico and was shot in 1867 by firing squad at the Cerro de Las Campanas in Querétaro, Mexico. It was in Lokrum where I had the sweetest cherries I have ever had. And they were a startingly white. While in Yugoslavia we also visited Split where I loved Diocletian's palace(right). We were taken to various houses owned by Tito but this one had the blue bathroom.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Rosemary, my daughters Ale (7) and Hilary (3) and I drove our Mexican VW Beetle from Mexico City to Vancouver in 1975. A roof rack had most of our belongings. Rosemary correctly decided that things weren't healthy in Mexico, at the time, for our daughters. Rosemary, who is from New Dublin, Ontario suggested that Vancouver was a better bet. She didn't think we would adjust to snow. In 1977 I still felt the pull of Mexico so I traded with Mexicana de Aviación, tickets anywhere in Mexico in exchange for some slides. Some of the photographs that I took in Yucatán of Chichen Itzá, Tulum and Uxmal became my first published photographs in a long defunct Vancouver travel magazine. I went to Oaxaca where there was a week-long festival. I went to city hall to get my accreditation for taking pictures. The noisy hall held many photographers and writers lining up for the same accreditation. Suddenly there was silence in the room. A striking woman, dressed in native clothing and wearing lots of silver jewelry, walked into the room, past the long line and got her permit immediately. I inquired who she was and I was told she was the writer for the magazine Siempre.
Siempre is a unique magazine that publishes articles from the political left and the political right. It has some intelligent editorial cartoons and most Mexicans (I can only speak for men here) read Siempre at the barber shop. I was impressed. While I was shooting some native dancers, the Siempre
correspondent and an older woman kept getting in my way until I told them off. The older woman told me I was rude but both moved on. Later on when I was strolling in the zócalo I spotted the two women having lunch in an outdoor restaurant. I cannot understand exactly what happened but suddenly I was facing them and I heard myself telling the correspondent that I wanted to photograph her. She introduced herself as Ana Victoria and told me that the other woman was her mother. She asked me to pass by her hotel after siesta.
She appeared in a a beautiful Oaxaca dress and it didn't take me long to realize she was wearing no underclothing. I attempted to take her pictures but was having a difficult time. She said that she was in Oaxaca to educate native women on natural and herbal contraceptives. She told me she was flying in a small plane the next day for a rest at Puerto Escondido and asked me if I wanted to come along. I explained that I had a tight schedule and that I had to be in Mérida that day. I declined. It was at this point that Ana Victoria told me something that I have never been able to forget or shake off.
"Most men are robots trying to pass as humans. Your tragedy is even worse. You are a human doing his best to be a robot. You are an extension of that device that you call a camera."
I never saw or heard of her again.
Krzysztof Kieslowski - Blue-White-Red & Green
Monday, May 29, 2006
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski is best known for his Three Colour Trilogy (Blue-White-Red). My impression of him is based on another colour. To be precise, a deep green. I photographed him for the Globe & Mail
on October 7, 1994. I watched gentle Christopher Dafoe (check blog for Saturday, May 27) interview him in the legendary (for me since I have photographed so many people there) Sun Room of the Hotel Vancouver. Kieslowski did not look well and he was chain smoking. I go this impression that he was not going to be around for long. A year later he had a heart attack and barely recovered. He died March 13, 1996. When I pulled out my deep green filter he looked at me and smiled. "I am a photographer, too," he said to me. "I know what a green filter does, exactly." And he posed for me and winked. As he looked straight into my camera I saw a man who was preparing to die. And I also knew, he knew, exactly, what the photograph was going to look like.
retractáre, Krzysztof Keslowski is snapped
A Request Not To Be Refused
Sunday, May 28, 2006
When Tony called me to ask me (in a New Jersey accent) to find a place quiet and private to meet with four guys, I knew I could not refuse.
I discovered the cellar of the Hamilton Street restaurant, Villa de Lupo (originally a house built in 1903), some years ago when Marc Destrubé the director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and I were shown to our table. The sound system was piping Antoni Vivaldi's Four Seasons
- one of my musical pet peeves in restaurants - so I asked our waiter for a table without music. He led us downstairs.
Villa del Lupo's cellar is a real cellar, with shelved wine bottles surrounding the long oak table. The overhead roof is almost claustrophobically low. When the waiter closed the thick door behind him we were in a soundproof room, almost like a cell.
So when Anthony DePalma, the 1998 Canadian correspondent for the New York Times, called me with his odd request I knew just the room. The "four guys" turned out to be the touring members of the Newfoundland band, Great Big Sea.
As we six entered the wine cellar DePalma bowed his head to duck the beams that run the length of the 1.75-metre-high ceiling. The thick door was closed behind us. "Perfect," proclaimed DePalma.
Great Big Sea did not eat. On the New York Times's tab they drank single malt Scotch all evening. DePalma, a professional journalist of the highest standard, was not tempted by the Nonino's on the restaurant's special grappa list.