Saturday, June 17, 2006
In 1986, when we moved to our present house on Athlone Street, I thought Rosemary had finally made a mistake. Rosemary never makes mistakes. Thanks to her perceptive talents and pioneering spirit we moved to Vancouver in our light blue WV Beetle with our two daughters in 1975. But this time I did not see how were were going to pay our $3200 a month mortgage. For about three years Rosemary gave me an allowance and she handled the money (as she always has). Within a couple of months I knew that if we not only had to pay the mortgage but also pay Harry Nomura, the neighbourhood Japanese gardener, things would not work out. Rosemary decided we would do the work on the lare garden of our corner lot. We learned quickly. Our garden has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens
and this past May in Canadian Gardening
. We have opened the garden for countless plant societies and this is the second time it is going to be opened (today and Sunday) for the City/VanDusen Tour. With this garden that began as Rosemary's, and through some gentle coaxing, I have learned a new activity which I have come to love. We share it. I have often said that it is strange how so many people escape the city, take a ferry, relax on an island and then battle ferry traffic to come back to the city. All Rosemary and I have to do is open the kitchen door and walk down to our garden. She's smart and I love her.
Friday, June 16, 2006
In 1968 when I was living in Arboledas, Estado de Mexico, my daugher Ale's godfather, Yorkshire man Andrew Taylor showed up at the door with an album in hand. "You're married to a Canadian. You should listen to this man." The album cover had this depressing photograph of a depressed looking man. Then we played it and two songs, Suzanne
and So long, Marianne
confirmed the man's depressed look. I could not believe that Andrew had spent good pesos on the record.
So it was with some unease that I faced Leonard Cohen in October, 1988. He was dressed all in black and looked scary. He told me, "I am a rotten apple at the bottom of the apple barrel who is a minority in Montreal. I am an English speaking Jew." And then he faced my camera grimly. While negative psychology has really never worked with my granddaughters Rebecca and Lauren, Cohen was receptive. I told him, "Under no circumstances are you going to laugh, or even give me a hint of a smile." And he did just that.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
I am an Argentine (rhymes with whine which is something we Argentines do very well) who lived in Mexico for many years and then in Texas where I almost became an American. I arrived to Vancouver in 1975 but I didn't really feel Canadian (not when I swore allegiance to the queen with my father's King James Bible) until I participated in the Urbanarium Society's 1998 show, B+W Vancouver. My photos of architecture in Vancouver were up on the wall with the photos of Leonard Frank and Otto Landauer who recorded Vancouver from its inception. I felt that Vancouver was my city and by a logical extension that somehow I was finally Canadian. This comforting feeling of belonging did not last. Shortly after, I met transplanted Argentine artists Nora Patrich and her husband Juan Manuel Sanchez. Juan refuses to speak any English and holds to the daily tradition of drinking mate from a gourd. He reads Argentine on-line newpspapers and asks me if I have read this or that, as if the events just happened outside of his studio window facing Douglas Park. It is difficult to look at passionate and beautiful Nora without longing for the women of Buenos Aires. So I get confused and I have been since I met them. When Argentina won its first world cup game last week Nora called me to tell me, "We won." I felt it necessary to tell her, "You won. I didn't. I am Canadian." I am confused but that doesn't mean I don't thoroughly enjoy being in the company of these Argentines.In the Company of ArgentinesPainting with Argentines
Alleyne & Barbara Cook
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
It was around noon on June 2, 1953 when my mother told me to wash my hands and knees ( I was 9, I wore short pants.) in preparation for lunch. At the risk of being spanked with a chinela
(an old Spanish word for slipper) I told her that I couldn't because I was listening to the coronation of "my queen" on our living room radio. In my Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Coghlan I was known as "el inglesito" or the little English boy. On June 1, in Winkfield Village, in Berkshire, a young New Zealand gardener was busy cutting flowers. He was one of only two men, who worked at Winkfield Place, a school for well to do girls run by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume. Constance Spry had been comissioned by Buckingham Palace to make all the floral arrangements that were to line the street from the Palace to Westminster Abbey which was to be the coronation ruite on the next day. Flowers had to be cut for the arrangements to decorate the inside of the Abbey, too. Rosemary Hume, the cooking side of Winkfield Place was brainstorming with her students to come up with a recipe to feed some of the dignitaries. The result, Coronation Chicken, will never be in the same menu with Peach Melba.
I feel privileged to have Barbara and Alleyne Cook as friends. Both are in their 80s. They live in North Vancouver and have one of the most interesting and eclectic gardens around. While Alleyne is an expert on rhododendrons (he planted many of the specimens, some very large, in Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen because he worked for the Parks Board for many years) he knows more about magnolias than anybody else I know. And when Alleyne is quiet (this is a rare occasion) Barbara is no slouch herself on plant knowledge. Both, of course, speak with impeccable botanical nomenclature. speak with that Christchurch, New Zealand accent so that "yes" manages to have two syllables. They would still be traveling to places they love to explore exotic flora, like Russia, Iran or Africa except that they find it difficult to pay the obligatory travel/health insurance that runs in the thousands for both of them.
When I am stumped with a botanical question I call the Cooks. They always have an intelligent answer even if my question is stupid.
Barbara is crazy about modern dance and ballet. When there are performances at the Vancouver Dance Centre, Alleyne drives her to the Sea Bus. She takes the bus to Granville and Davie. Rebecca, she and I enjoy the dance. Before I drive her to the Sea Bus whe have coffee at the nearby Blenz and discuss the performance.
One of the most glorious roses in my garden is a huge unknown rose called Rosa
'Complicata' which is sometimes classified as a Gallica. A few years ago Alleyne showed up at my door with a little pot with a small rose. He placed it at my feet and said, "If you are going to have one rose, Complicata (top right) is the one. Here it is."
Perhaps I should ask him if Constance Spry had Complicata in her garden and if he cut any for those arrangements for Queen Elizabeth II, my queen.
Norman 200B - All American
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Going home to Coghlan via the cavernous English style train station
of Retiro in Buenos Aires in the early 50s I often noticed a sign
advertising the benefits of using Portland cement. I remember that it
read Cemento Portland (USA
). This meant that the product was that
much better. It was the geniuine American article. We Argentines are
mostly anti-American, but don't take our Levis away from us! In a city
where you can buy a steak and a bottle of wine for under $10, throngs
flock into McDonalds and Burger Kings. Since this former Argentine, now a
Canadian citizen, was educated in Texas I have had a particular
fondness for people and stuff from South of the 49th Parallel. I get
into bitter fights with my Argentine painter friend Juan Manuel Sanchez
who one moment says Bush is an idiot and the next blames him for all
kinds of brilliant plotting with the CIA. I argue that Argentines should
begin by blaming themselves for their problems. At least Argentines,
unlike Mexicans cannot complain, "So far from God and so close to the
While I don't have any fondness for
Bush, Hummers and Yukon SUVs I must confess I love Americans and the
United States. All my life I have used Kodak film because it is
American. Besides I have been partial for Kodak's yellow boxes and find
Fuji's green boxes ugly. Ralph Nader be damned, happiness would be a
Corvair Monza in mint condition parked in my garage.
people ask me for some of the secrets of my success as a photographer I
often cite my Norman 200B. In its day (30 years ago is when I bought my
first of three) the Norman 200B was the most powerful battery operated
flash. At the Smithsonian I saw a Norman 200B pack damaged beyond repair
by a Viet Cong bullet that penetrated its electronics, but stopped just
there to save the life of some lucky American photojournalist.
have never been let down by my Norman, and in situations when my studio
flash units have failed (or even exploded) the Norman has been there to
save the day. The Normans ( my vintage ones) were manufactured by
Norman Enterprises in Burbank California.
On a recent
trip to Kelowna for a Reader's Digest assignment I was called back from
boarding my plane back to Vancouver. I was escorted by two burly men
into a room. My Norman 200B case was on a table. A very serious third
man asked me, "What's that?" I proceded to proudly explain what it was
by connecting (all three men jumped back) the flash head to the power
pack to demonstrate just what my Norman 200B could do. The big powerful
burst of light warmed my heart and I saw, perhaps, signs of relief in
the faces of the three men.
Above right you can see what a Norman 200B can do. It's Rebecca Stewart with Rosa
'Mrs Oakley Fisher'.
Mexico - Méjico
Monday, June 12, 2006
When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico they built churches on top of pyramids and adapted Mayan and Aztec gods to Catholicism. But it was the language of the aboriginal population that perplexed the Spaniards. One problem was a sound that manifested itself in many different ways. But the Spaniards standardized it all with the letter j. The country became Méjico
and Mexicans were Mejicanos
. After Mexican independence Mexicans reverted to the letter x which had different sounds: Mexican words that begin with x are pronounced as sh so Xola is shola. An x in the middle of a word can be an s as in Taxco but j (or h) as in Oaxaca. The county of Bejar in Texas (during the Spanish period) became Bexar during the Mexican period. When Texas became Texas Bexar county became Bear County. Under Spain the inhabitants had been Tejas Indians. These were then Texas Indians and finally the state became Texas.
In 1953 my mother went to Mexico from Buenos Aires to see if our family should move there. When she came back she wrote the word as Mexico so I insisted in pronouncing it like an x. To this day Spaniards insist in writing the name of the country with a j as Méjico. To me that x made Mexico that much more exotic. When we finally arrived in Mexico in 1955 I fell in love with Mexico and I have felt a pull that has never diminished even in my contentment in Vancouver.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
There have been few days in my life that in some way I have not thought of this big and loud man of whom I was a bit afraid of at times. To begin with I have been addicted to pizza because Brother Stanley would walk the corridors of St Edward's High School (a boarding school in Austin, Texas) on weekend evenings looking for volunteers who might want to go for a pizza. He taught me biology. In a test that would not pass muster in our frog-friendly times he told us one day, "You are each going to open up a frog and sew it back together. If your frog dies last, you will win this box of Anthony & Cleopatra cigars. Considering that few of us smoked or would have been allowed to smoke cigars on campus, we were excited. I won the box and I have no memory of what I did with it. Brother Stanly insisted that all of us buy and use a newfangled circular slide rule. It was a breeze to use and I have kept mine all these years.
But it was in grade 12 physics that Brother Stanley marked me for life. I found his class too difficult and I was afraid that by taking it my very high average (96.8 %) might suffer. I told him I was going to quit his class. His little talk (after he allowed me to quit and which I did) was, "Alex it is difficult to quit but as you quit more often you will gain experience and you will find that it becomes easier as you go. Soon you will be an expert quitter."