Daniel Guridi Árregui - The Man On The Left
Saturday, August 05, 2006
When I travel I have the time to reflect. I remember a trip to Europe with Rosemary, Ale and Hilary in the mid 80s. Our daughters were in their early teens and quickly tired of museums. The handsome bell boys of our Madrid hotel were a high point in their trip. By the time we got to Málaga all they wanted to do was to lie in the sun on the beach. While they did this I tried to mend a fence from my past.
It is too late to say to Daniel Guridi Árregui (the man on the left in photo) that I valued the friendship he tried to give me.
Daniel Guridi Árregui married Filipina Lilly Pardo de Tavera in Manila in the late 40s. Daniel, as we all called him had left his boyhood town of Mondragón in the Basque Province in Spain when he was 15 to play as a professional jai-alai player in the pelota
courts of the world. Pelota is the name for the game that the Basque rather use and those who play the game are pelotaris
. In those years this sport was played professionally in Hong Kong, Macao, Manila, Mexico City, Miami and many more places. Part of its attraction, beyond its fantastic speed and beauty, was (you still can see the game in Miami) that you could wager. Best of all you could even wager while games were being played. Daniel was a fenómeno
a word Spaniards use for describing those few mortals that seem to have a talent that transcends reason. Lilly Pardo's mother, Doña Pacita was a friend of my family. Both my grandmother and mother had taught Lilly at school in Manila. Somehow when our family moved to Mexico in 1953, Daniel, wife, daughter, Dedé (Lilly's unmarried sister, third from left) and Doña Pacita were also there. I could not go to the frontón (another name for the sport) until a few years later when I was 18.They did not allow minors at the games. So I never saw Daniel play. I avoided him because I hated his daughter Marili (I was misguided then about women) who would come to the house to play!
When Daniel retired from the frontón he set up a gun shop on Avenida Insurgentes Sur, right next to the apartment where I lived with my mother and grandmother. On the other side of our apartment was a pleasant looking old mansion. To the horror of my grandmother, a gentleman buzzed our door bell one late evening thinking he was buzzing next door. It was then that we found out that the mansion was of ill repute.
Daniel sold beautiful Breda over & under shotguns and Beretta pistols. He taught me a thing or two on these guns. Finally, when Mexican generals (the permit to have a gun store came from the Defense Ministry) abused the privilege of coming to the shop to ask Daniel for contributions to their forthcoming vacation in Acapulco, Daniel called it quits and moved to Málaga where he set up a VW dealership.
It was in Málaga around 1985 that Rosemary, and my daughters Ale and Hilary caught up with the Guridis. By then I had come to understand that Daniel, who did not have an education, but suffered chronic insomnia had educated himself by reading all night. Being a frontón player involved getting home very late at night and so as not to disturb Lilly he got into the habit of reading. I loved discussing literature with Daniel.
He was famous for his paella a la valenciana
. The secret to his paella, many asserted, was his discrete depositing of his cigar ash while stirring the pot. So I arrived at Daniel's door with a box of Montecristo Claros and a bottle of the finest fino manzanilla I could find. While the women roamed the beaches Daniel and I caught up. We lit up our cigars and savoured our finos. I realized that while arriving a bit too late for his friendship, just a bit of it was enough to last me a lifetime.
Morelia, Bolillos, Tortas & Tri X
Friday, August 04, 2006
Rosemary, Rebbeca and I finally arrived to Morelia tonight with enough time to post my daily blog. The Houston airport was hopeless for internet access if you didn't have a laptop with wireless connection. But our hotel does have a computer.
When I saw this scene on the main square (zócalo) in Morelia so long ago I had to struggle with my Pentax S-3's thread mount lenses as I quickly went for the 28mm wide angle. I was very much into the Ansel Adams Zone System in those days which meant that I had exposures sort of memorized in my head. I remember that to take this picture I ran after the young man who was balancing a large whicker basket of bolillos on his head. I got him just before the portal
ended at the street. Something has to be said of the extremely sharp 16x20 print that I have of this negative. And consider that this was Tri-X circa 1972.
I know the young man was carrying bolillos in his basket because I stopped him to have a look. Mexicans buy this "French" style bread fresh in the morning. The taste of this excellent bread depends on the saltiness of the individual bakeries. Nobody has confirmed the suspicions that many have, that this saltiness has all to do with sweat. Bakeries with their ovens are hot so bakers kneed the bread mixture without a shirt. As the sweat pours, it has been suggested that bakers will dry it off with the dough. From the same dough but in a less circular and more of a flat configuration the bolillo becomes a telera
. The telera is used for making Mexican sandwiches buttered on one side and avocado spread on the other. These sandwiches are called tortas. My favourite is made from leg of pork or "torta de pierna."
There is a problem here with Spanish in that: Torta is Spanish for cake. So In Mexico a cake is a pastel
. But a pastel in most other Spanish speaking countries is a pie. So Mexicans call their pies pays
. They have to write it differently. Pies means feet! The Spaniards have tried to force Latin Americans to use the word emparedado
for the sandwich. But we have never given in. It may have to do with our aversion to our former colonizers and admiration for English lords.
Miss Tink & English Trains
Thursday, August 03, 2006
At precisely eleven minutes past eight marked by Roman numerals on the large round English platform clock, the electric train stopped at Coghlan Station on a Monday morning. A young boy in school uniform climbed into the train and deposited his books on the wrought iron luggage rack over the leather seats. Most of the seats were occupied by soberly dressed gentlemen reading The Standard
or The Herald.
Nineteen minutes later, after tickity-tacketing through brick tunnels covered with morning glory, crossing on iron bridges spanning rivers, and passing by polo and rugby fields, the train rolled into the cavernous Victorian station. Large billboards advertised Bovril, Horlicks, Old Smuggler Scotch and the latest offerings at Harrods. Only the soccer scores of Sunday's matches, boldly proclaimed from the front pages of sports papers on the newstands - scores like Newels's Old Boys 1 - Boca Juniors 2 - might reveal to a confused traveller that this was Retiro Station (the two yellow photos) in Buenos Aires, circa 1950.
Forty- four years later I stood on the platform at Crew Station, Chestershire. The rectangular digital clock read 12:18. The scene felt no different from the one of my childhood. As in Buenos Aires, I had to look to my right to see if the train was coming. The smell of iron rust on the tracks would have told me where I was, eyes closed. I could feel the comforting familiarity of the English train station. I was waiting for the 12:33, 225 Intercity, to transport me at over 200 kilometres per hour to Euston Station, London. This was exciting: riding an English train in England.
Looking out on the rapidly passing scenery, I saw green hills, interrupted here and there by English oaks. I could hear the music of Elgar in my imagination.Under miniature clouds and a horizon so close I could almost touch it, sheep graze. Their backsides were sprayed with bright red or blue paint. A Turner on acid. By the time the train reached Watford, the scenery gradually turned urban. I could see dying vines on the old brick embankments. Could those be morning glory? Miss Tink, the childhood governess of Jorge Luis Borges, had to come from here. Perhaps it was she who made Borges a lifelong Anglophile. From her he had learned to read in English before Spanish. At seven he translated Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince
. As an adult, Borges proclaimed that "English is the only language to be known. English literature contains and sums up all things."
At 14:20, five minutes early, my train arrived at a dissapointingly '60s-modernized Euston Station. A black taxi deposited me and my luggage at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street.
Oscar Wilde, while staying here, at his favourite Tower Room, was arrested in 1895 and taken to Reading Gaol. The poet Sir John Betjeman wrote:
"...Mr. Woilde, we've come for tew
Where felons and criminals dwell.
We must ask yew tew leave with us
For this is the Cadogan Hotel....."
I don't think Borges could have improved on that.
In 1995 I returned to Coghlan with my poet friend Rubén Derlis. I photographed him with his pipe on the platform. I could smell the iron rust on the rails.
Bull Pythons, Bugs & Golfers
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Back in the late 70s when we lived in Burnaby I wanted to experience childhood through my daughters. I purchased a slot car racing set in the hopes that my two daughters would be as excited as I was about manifesting some sort of interest in the now forgotten desire for an electric train. As a little boy my parents could never afford the Lionels or American Flyers that my American friends had in their Buenos Aires homes. They compensated by somehow finding a large Erector set which was much more interesting (it was American-made!) than the boring English green coloured Meccano. I thought the slot car would be a contemporary replacement and would fill the void for the Lionels I never had. My daughters showed no interest and it didn't take long before the awful shag carpet of our house clogged the cars' terminals and I finally put them away.
Now Rebecca has provided me with the opportunity to revisit my youth. Unfortunately she is more interested in my contemporary pursuits. She loves to be in the garden with me and has a keen interest in roses and in strange rhododendrons like Rhododendron
'Golfer' with its white tomentum (a fuzzy white coating on the top of its leaves). I never had a penchant for musical instruments and I balked when my mother bought me a beautiful Argentine guitar and hired a teacher. Rebecca, on the other hand relishes going to Nikolai Maloff's house for her piano lessons.
But worst of all Rebecca will pick up and hold whatever insect, bug or worm she finds in the garden. At the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. she delighted in being able to hold 4-inch cockroaches and other insects that made me squirm particularly the spiders with their randomly independent moving legs.
And it doesn't end there. Rosemary and I had to take Rebecca twice to the reptile weekend at VanDusen Botanical Garden. While her sister Lauren (4) stood her ground as far from the reptiles as she could Rebecca held and draped every snake she could find.
Of Putos, Putas, Trolos, Tortilleras Y De Los 41
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
When I attended Angels in America
(Part 1) a couple of weeks ago I found the on-stage simulated gay sex difficult to watch. I realized that I can tell myself that I have liberal views but they must be a sham. It was all made palatable by the excellent male actors who had the demanding gay roles. In the end good acting won out. I have been thinking a lot about gayness with all the gay pride stuff that has been appearing in local publications.
I remember a handsome man who wore eye makeup before metrosexuals made it fashionable. He was Raymond Burr's companion. I met him twice since I photographed Burr twice. I did not know of Raymond Burr's sexual persuasion nor did it seem to matter once I knew. Burr was charming. His companion wore an HMCS Sackville tie which conmemorated its saving (the last of the heroic Canadian Corvettes that helped turn the tide in the War of the Atlantic in WWII). The gentleman explained to me how Burr had involved himself in a campaign to rescue the ship from being broken up.
Back in the early 50s (I was 14), I used to bowl in the little bowling alley in the American Colony in Nueva Rosita, a mining town in Coahuila, Mexico. We used to snicker and circle any total of 41 pins. It seems that sometime in the early 50s, Mexico City cops broke up a raucous gay party and arrested 41 men. Since then the number has been used to describe gay men in Mexico. He is one of the forty one! In Argentina we call gay men trolos and lesbians tortilleras. I don't know the origin of the former and the latter confuses me as a tortilla maker in Argentina would make omelettes while in Mexico she would make tortillas.
I have a great aunt who may be a tortillera
. My grandmother used to tell me of Pilar de Irureta Goyena who, "Dressed like a man and rode horses like a man." I met Pilar not to long ago in Vancouver at a large Chinese restaurant. The call came one afternoon. The woman on the phone with the mezzo-soprano voice had instructed me, "Alejandro bring your two daughters, I want to meet them." This mysterious woman has apartments in Manila, San Francisco and Vancouver. I asked her about her riding and she proudly showed me photographs of her posing with General Douglas MacArthur. "I won many riding awards," she told me.
But Spanish, and particularly Argentine Spanish can be peculiarly inventive. A couple of years ago when I visited Buenos Aires in November I noticed on the wall of the College of Philosophy of the University of Buenos Aires this insult that described the dean as "Decano, puto, puta." In this context puto means gay while puta is a female whore. Try to figure that one out.
It is not proper or justifiable for me to now write that I have many gay friends and I feel comfortable with them. It will suffice for me to post my favourite gay photograph. In the photo you have the most passionate male dancer that ever danced for Ballet BC, Miroslav Zydowicz (holding the paint brush), and artist Tiko Kerr. In switching the role of the painter with the ballet dancer I asked Miroslav to gently use Kerr's brush on Kerr as if he were petting a cat.
A Botanical Hedgehog In My Garden
Monday, July 31, 2006
It seems I cannot get away from thinking of spiny things. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I have recently re-read one of my favourite novels, Yevgeny Yevtushenko's Don't Die Before You're Dead
. One of the protagonists, Chunya, is a hedgehog. And is just so happens that the botanical name of our globe thistles, Echinops
means "like a hedgehog" in Greek, refering to the spiny flower bracts. No matter how hard I try, my wife Rosemary is always ahead in locating interesting plants. Some years back I could not understand her interest in hardy geraniums and I absolutely loathed the smell of her Astrantia major
'Shaggy'reminiscent of sweaty armpits in a Mexican second class bus in summer. I now, of course, love these plants and admire Rosemary's ability to appreciate plants that are subtle. It was about 8 years ago that she showed interest in the globe thistle and brought home some blue ones called Echinops ritro
'Veitch's Blue' I did not understand what she saw in these plants that were reminded me of the cardos
or thistles of the Argentine pampa. Then I saw how bees were attracted to the flower and how tall these plants grew in the back of the border. So I liked them, too. Four or five years ago I picked up something called Echinops sphaerocephalus
'Artic Glow'. I told Rosemary they were supposed to be white. She showed no interest. I forgot the plants. Then this year I spotted these incredible spiky white balls in the back of our sunny perennial border. Yes! Just this time, I may have discovered a good plant before Rosemary. I have a good teacher.
Andrea Y El Baile De Las Sábanas Blancas
Sunday, July 30, 2006
A few years ago some freelance writers and photographers would meet on Thursdays for lunch at the Railway Club on Dunsmuir and Seymour in Vancouver. An infrequent apparition was a beautiful, shapely and tall blond woman who sat at a nearby table. All we could do was to spy glances as we did not have enough nerve to invite her to sit at our table. I looked forward to those days when she did show up. One day I decided that all she could do was say, "No." So I went up to her and asked, "I would like to photograph you undraped." She looked at me straight in the eye and responded, "I would be delighted."
I anticipated our afternoon appointment at my studio with pleasure. She arrived and she unceremoniously took her clothes off. I was speechless. She had had a mastectomy, she had an appendix scar and two C-section scars. I did not know what to do. Now, of course, I would photograph her as she is. That time around I worked around the "problems". One of the photographs, El Baile de las Sábanas Blancas
(above, left) is one of my favourite and most sensual photographs. The title means, "the white sheet dance or ball". As a little boy I would fight going to bed and my mother would say, "Alex, es la hora de ir al baile de las sábanas blancas
." This dance of the white sheets, was my bed. I have never forgotten the expression, and even now I would not sleep in anything but crisp white sheets.
And often when I despair at not being rich like a plumber, I do come to accept that being a photographer does have a few advantages.