Saturday, September 02, 2006
|Pacific, 1967 - Alex Colville|
I have managed to see all but one of the movies featuring Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The one that I missed was the 1947 Brasher Doubloon
with George Montgomery. Since I am a Raymond Chandler fan I even liked Robert Altman's 1973 The Long Goodbye
with Elliot Gould. Gould seems to be stoned throughout. I am not sure if Raymond Chandler was ever satisfied with the actors that played his private detective in movies. I will never forget seeing a special TV interview with John Le Carré who when asked about Sir Alec Guinness playing George Smiley he answered something like this, "Alec, has taken Smiley away from me. I cannot write about Smiley without seeing Alec Guinness." By all accounts, no actor has ever gotten to the core, either in performance or in looks, to what Chandler fans expect. I thought that Robert Mitchum was close in the 1975 Farewell My Lovely
but then I was distracted by my favourite actress, Charlotte Rampling so I didn't notice that Mitchum seemed a bit too old for the part.
In 1995 I had the opportunity to photograph Canadian artist Alex Colville. I asked him about my favourite painting, Pacific, 1967
. I wanted to know why the painting has a ruler on the table. Colvile answered, "That was my mother's milliner's table."
I have only recently realized that in Pacific
Colville depicts the perfect Philip Marlowe even if we only see him from behind. Even though most of us know that Marlowe usually packed a Luger.
Try looking at Pacific
while listening to Pat Metheny's Red Wind
in the ultimate Raymond Chandler jazz CD, Charlie Haden Quartet West - In Angel City
. Any CD that quotes a long passage from Chandler's The Little Sister
has to have something going for it. This CD has it in spades. Verve 837 031-2
Eros In A Brush
Friday, September 01, 2006
Being a freelance photographer can be tough in some of those months when you think the phone is never going to ring again. It is then when I think that perhaps I should have learned a more lucrative profession like plumbing or cabinet making with a minor in French polish.
The frustration dissipates quickly. I wouldn't be able to take pictures like this one by saying to a beautiful woman, "I would like you to watch me install some of my best plumbing in Mrs Smith's kitchen. I think you are beautiful." On the other hand, as a photographer, I was able to approach Kimberley Klaas (seen here) and take a series of photographs that explored my interest in eros. She called me one day to tell me that she had a new boy friend who was an artist. It didn't take me long to figure out a series of photographs that explored the use of a simple paint brush.
Naguib Mahfouz in Acapulco
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Today August 31 is my birthday. It has always been a sad day as birthdays always meant large birthday cakes that I loathed and many children coming to our Buenos Aires garden with the prospect that all would have to go into the house (and break all my toys) as August 30, 31 meant rain. August 30 is the day of Santa Rosa de Lima and on her day it always rained. The storm was called la tormenta de Santa Rosa
Today I am even sadder. Naguib Mahfouz, a friend I never met died yesterday. I first discovered Mahfouz in the desk drawer of the chief of the judicial police of Acapulco. In 1989 I spent a week with the chief, Felipe Ferrer Junco. He had been my neighbour in 1973 in Mexico City. His wife was the bodyguard to the wife of the president of Mexico and Felipe was a lawyer. Somehow by 1989 Marcela Ferrer Junco had retired the gun in her purse and Felipe was now dealing with scary crime in Acapulco. I can attest to the fact that it was scary. On my first day Felipe told me, "I know that you are writing about me for Vancouver Magazine and I will give you access to everything I do here. You can photograph anything. But please remember, when you write this, that my job could be on the line."
Felipe was true to his word and I saw everything from the creative use of Salsa Búfalo (a very hot sauce) mixed with soda water that could make any alleged criminal sing on the spot if the concoction were to go up his nose to the setting up and the "doing away" of a man (with a 22 revolver) who had killed one of Felipe's men.
My biggest surprise was finding Naguib Mahfouz's book in that desk drawer next to a grease gun and the State of Guerrero Penal Code. It was an odd revelation to read about the heat of Egypt at night in the heat of Acapulco while spending time with my urbane and mostly gentle chief of police.
It was Felipe who on August 31, 1974 (before I moved to Vancouver in 1975) who took me to a house of prostitution in Veracruz for a drink. "You need to see one of these before you move to clean and respected Canada, "
, he told me with a smile. I watched a very young and beautiful woman dancing very closely with a man who looked of ill repute. Felipe whispered in my ear, "Don't even look in that direction, he is the chief of police here."
As for Felipe's fondness for Naguib Mahfouz's books it could be partly explained by his Arab "connection". "You know," he would tell me often, "I am the spitting image of Muammar al-Quaddafi."
Jerry, Gerry and Oodles of Noodles
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Jerry Hulse was tall and redhaired. He looked like Gerry Mulligan. I didn’t know this because I didn’t know who Gerry Mulligan was. This was 1963 Mexico City. On Monday nights my friend Robert Hijar and our mutual girlfriend Judy Brown (her claim to fame at the time was that her father played tennis with Charles Schulz in Redwood City, California) would attend the jazz sessions at the Benjamin Franklin Library. The library was a propaganda arm of the United States Information Service. There were two residents spies who sat in the back to watch us. They wore pink shirts and white ties. I guess they thought they were invisible. We all took advantage of the free Nescafe. Jerry Hulse presided and he would carefully remove records from their album sleeves and play them on equipment I had never seen before. Robert was familiar with the stuff. He had one and many reel to reel tape decks at home. Many years later he confessed that his mom and dad had worked for the CIA from a backyard "garage" full of electronics. When the evening began Jerry would screw on a Shure cartridge shell to a tone arm with reverence. The sound was superb. This was high fidelity! In his serviceable Spanish (his parents were missionaries) he would explain a bit about the music we were going to listen to. Thanks to Jerry, I discovered all the greats of jazz and why he liked, in particular, Gerry Mulligan.
Around 1964, Robert and I went to that other arm of the USIS, the Instituto Mexicano Americano de Relaciones Culturales to a free Dave Brubeck Quartet concert. While I had seen the quartet some years before in Austin, I would never forget this concert. At the intermission we were informed that Paul Desmond’s father had died and that Mr. Desmond might not come back to play. He did. He played Audrey
. This was the first time I ever heard my favourite Brubeck and Desmond tune, Audrey
written to honour Desmond’s infatuation with Audrey Hepburn. Henceforth I would be hooked on jazz with a preference for the melodic saxophone styles of Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Bill Perkins.
While in Argentina in the middle and late 60s I would play André Previn’s My Fair Lady
when I was happy and Miles Davis Kind of Blue
when I was depressed. Even today when I listen to this latter album I can feel the damp Buenos Aires cold creeping into my bones. I remember of Susy leaving me for the principal violinist of the Teatro Colón, or of Corinne going to England for her career in art. I saw her at her boat in Puerto Nuevo
and went home to Miles Davis.
But now, even though I have many more jazz albums that I can ever play in one long weekend sitting, I listen to the same stuff over an over. I listen and compare Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s version of Charlie Haden’s first song (for Ruth)
with Haden’s own from Charlie Haden Quartet West – Angel City
. I enjoy André Previn and J.J. Johnson Play Kurt Weill's Mack the Knife & Bilbao Song and other music from the Threepenny Opera Happy End Mahagonny
. But if I had to go to a desert island I would probably take my 10 versions of Gerry Mulligan playing My Funny Valentine
. I have several with Chet Baker on trumpet and one where he even sounds like he is playing a mariachi trumpet. I have one with Bobby Brookmeyer on valve trombone. But my favourite of all is from The Gerry Mulligan Quartet – What Is There To Say
with Art Farmer on the trumpet. This recording from 1959 (a perfect stereo record, sax on the left, trumpet on the right) has one of my favourite jazz photographs (the photographer is not credited). Gerry looks just like Jerry. On the left it's Art Farmer, and on the right it's Dave Bailey on drums and Bill Crow on bass.
I have been playing a lot of Mulligan to Rebecca. Because she is learning to play the piano, I am explaining to her the Mulligan concept of the pianoless quartet. She can already tell the difference in sound between the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Perhaps she is ready to listen to the first jazz album I ever bought ( I bought it in Austin in 1958 and I still have it). I will have to play her Dorsey's Oodles of Noodles
from Herbie Mann's The Magic Flute of Herbie Mann
While that André Previn/J.J. Johnson record title may seem long, my guess is that the longest is from that other fave of mine: Lalo Schifrin The Dissection and reconstruction of music from the past as performed by the inmates of Lalo Schifrin's demented ensemble as a tribute to the memory of the Marquis de Sade
, Verve V/V6-8654
Gottschalk & The Turtle Shell Fan
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Even though I was forced to learn to play the alto saxophone as a teenager I may be the least musically inclined member of my family. My mother played the piano, my Aunt Dolly the violin, my Uncle Tony was a fantastic tenor and my grandmother Lolita was a coloratura soprano. She was never able to launch an opera singer's career as she would have scandalized Manila. Proper girls did not sing in public. But this did not stop my grandmother's aunt, Buenaventura Galvez Puig (at right seen with Lolita, left) from being a concert pianist of note in the Philippines. It is only because I have perused her old sheet music that I came to know the existence of the New Orleans composer L.M. Gottschalk and appreciate his music.
Buenaventura's favorite niece was my mother Filomena. Before bed, she would brush my mother's long, thick hair. My mother cried. Buenaventura told her, "Alas, if you are to be a woman and a lady you will have to get used to suffering pain." My mother loved Buenaventura. Many years later, one of her tourtoise shell fans covered in the semi transparent jusi
cloth, with her name incrusted in large emeralds and diamonds, became a bone of contention in the family. Both my mother and my aunt Dolly wanted it. My mother, in a Solomonic gesture, suggested a division of the prize. Dolly was to keep the gems and she would have the fan. The gems were sold or pawned many years ago, but the fan is still around. Here you see it in Rebecca's hands. Rebecca is taking piano lessons with Nikolai Maloff. Perhaps some day she will play Gottschalk's Morte! Lamentation pour Piano O.P. 60
Un Verde ( A Green One)
Monday, August 28, 2006
I previously touched on this subject a few months back: El Mate
but with Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich in Buenos Aires until December I cannot drink a mate by myself. It is a social drink. So I must write about it.
When I cradle my father’s 75 year-old mate in my hand and sip the hot and bitter tea my imagination takes me away from Vancouver to the middle of a the Argentine pampa where the horizon is never broken by anything except maybe an Ombú, under whose shade a mate may best be enjoyed. Ilex paraguayensis
is a South American relative of the common holly. The bush grows in Paraguay, Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina. In the beginning of the 16th century the Jesuits, who were proselytizing in what today is Paraguay, watched native Guaranis sip a hot tea from gourds using a hollow reed. Since this happened with great frequency the Jesuits decided the tea was a drug and tried to ban it by even threatening excommunication. But it didn’t take long for the crafty Jesuits to figure out that the beverage, called mate (the gourd and the herb are both called mate) and made from yerba mate would enable the Indians, they often overworked, to keep on going during the day without much sustenance as long as they were given their “mate breaks”.
In my two year stint as a conscript in the Argentine navy during the mid 60s I learned to tolerate and eventually enjoy a beverage that Argentines call mate cocido
or boiled mate. The tea is boiled for hours with milk and lots of sugar. The thick concoction resembles swamp water and the taste is definitely one to be acquired. At 6 AM at our barracks at the Arsenal Buenos Aires (in the very spot where the captain of the German battle cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, Hans Langsdorff shot himself in 1939) we were served mate cocido and galleta, a hard unleavened bread. This sparse breakfast kept us on our feet until lunch late in the afternoon.
It has taken some time for North Americans and Canadians to catch up to the Society of Jesus and to catch on that mate is a hunger suppressant.
But mate will never replace either coffee or tea in North America. This is because drinking mate is a combination of social pastime and a tertulia where the one mate is passed around (usually in a clockwise direction) and gatherers converse. While people collect mates (the gourds) only one is used at any given time no matter how many guests are around. It is rude to wipe the silver bombilla or straw once the mate has been drunk by someone else. The mate is passed back to the person in charge, the cebador; hot water is poured and the mate is passed back to you. Canadians would surely call this unhealthy.
Until about 20 years ago the mate was placed on a table with a container of yerba (the tea itself which is the whole chopped bush so there are leaves and bits of the stalk called palo) and a little pava
or kettle would be brought in from the kitchen. There would be an option of bringing a sugar dish but most purists disdain the use of sugar in a mate. It was the more practical Uruguayan mind that figured out the use of thermos for carrying the water (it has to be hot and not quite boiling). This freed the mate drinker from the pava. So now, on Uruguayan or Argentine beaches, football matches and young couples in parks can be seen with their mate and thermos.
On any given day I may get a call from my Argentine friends, Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich. Juan might say, “¿Un verde?” I am out of the house like a shot.
De Capa Y Espada
Sunday, August 27, 2006
There is no frigate lika a book to take us lands away.
The hot dry summer weather keeps my night table neat. There is an ordinary pile of books on it that I am reading or to be read. All this changes as soon as it gets cool and the rains come. Rosemary, my unusually understanding wife, will begin to question my sanity as not only will the night table lose its order but our living room floor will be strewn with turn-of-the-century hardcovers by Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini. On some days I may disappear to the basement TV room to see, in one sitting, Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate
, Errol Flynn in Captain Blood
(Up the rigging you monkeys!”), and Cutthroat Isl
and with Geena Davis. On another day it could be Fairbanks in the Adventures of Zorro
, and Ronald Colman in Prisoner of Zenda
I have a special bookcase in our den where I keep my favourite swashbucklers. There I have Prince of Foxes
by Samuel Shellabarger and Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma
. On a visit to my official swashbuckler provider, Lawrence Books at 41st and Dunbar I obtained a prized Beau Geste
by Percival C. Wren with a bullet hole clean through it.
My obsession for reading adventure novels of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th began some years ago at a garage sale. I discovered the book between the IBM Selectric and a glass coffee percolator. I knew what I would find before I even opened it to the first page much as the nose savours the scent of summer’s first sweet peas.
“He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad, “begins Scaramouche
, Rafael Sabatini’s 1921 novel set during the French Revolution. That single and unforgettable sentence propelled me back to my childhood in Buenos Aires. It awoke in me nostalgia for the excitement and adventure that I once felt for books and movies that I thought I had lost in this age of blockbuster movies and run-away bestsellers.
“Alex, wash your hands and knees,” is how my mother called me into the house before taking me to the movies in 1948 Buenos Aires. That was the year we saw Beau Geste
at the Cine Cabildo. I will never forget the film’s beginning, Fort Zinderneuf eerily defended by dead legionnaires, and that final conflagrant scene where Gary Cooper is given a Viking funeral (complete with a dog at his feet) in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Those scenes gave me my first bouts of insomnia. Soon after I began making swords from bamboo and swinging from a rope tied to our garden’s persimmon tree. I was Captain Blood boarding a prize from the deck of the Cinco Llagas
Sometimes my grandmother would take me to Avenida Lavalle, where movies houses like the Splendid and the Ocean offered programa continuado
from early morning on. After the marathon of bloody mayhem, my abuelita’s sweet tooth would lead us to the Roxy, the nearby soda shop for strawberry ice cream sodas. Other days, I’d be joined by my father who adored all things English and nautical. We skipped stones in the ponds of Palermo Park. He called it “schooning” as the stones imitate nimble, wave-riding schooners; together we saw Errol Flynn in Captain B
lood. When we saw The Black Swan
, I noticed the woman with red hair. Who wouldn’t? It was Maureen O’Hara's first Technicolor movie. I remember, too, being taken to a movie with Katherine Hepburn where she wore pants. At eight I felt my manhood threatened and I feared her. What I found a consolation, then, was my all-time favourite adventure movie, Prince of Foxes
. It features boiling oil poured on castle attackers and the fake blinding of Tyrone Power by a demonic Felix Aylmer who squeezed grapes near Power’s eyes to the delight of Orson Welles’s Cesar Borgia.
Recently, when I tracked down, via computer, the novel Prince of Foxes
at my Oakridge branch of the Vancouver public library I was out of the house like a shot. I was not disappointed. The grape scene was there! And so I went in pursuit of Lawrence Schoonovers, more Sabatinis and as many Alexandre Dumases as I could find. After reading the close to a million and quarter words of Dumas’complete musketeer saga (The Three Musketeers
, Twenty Years After
and The Vicomte de Bragellone
) I came to learn that they are as much fun as the movies they engendered.
Swashbuckling novels are a sub-genre of historical fiction. A buckle was a small round shield. Swarthy men could challenge their opponents by striking (swashing) their buckles with a sword pummel. The commonly held idea that swashbucklers are a lower form of historical fiction may be due to an attempt by Balzac to write them. He failed as he was unable to meet the deadline for copy. Few know that John Steinbeck initiated his literary career, but set it back, with Cup of Gold
, a 1929 swashbuckler on pirate Henry Morgan.
Too easily, the whole genre is dismissed as juvenile reading. Consider Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo
, literature’s most famous case of an implacable and most un-Christian revenge. It features a female serial poisoner, two cases of infanticide, a stabbing and three suicides, an extended scene of torture and execution, drug-induced sexual fantasies, illegitimacy, transvestism and lesbianism, a display of the author’s classical history, the customs and diets of the Italians, the effects of hashish and all in about 1000 pages. Juvenile? I don’t think so.
Paradoxically, I find these extravagantly dramatic novels interesting because they ring true. P.C. Wren and Rafael Sabatini shared with Ian Fleming a stint in military intelligence. Alexandre Dumas went as far as running guns in his yacht for Italy’s Giuseppe Garibaldi. In his six-volume My Memoirs
, Dumas describes his fondness for duels. One of those duels pitted Dumas against Gaillart, and Dumas’ friend and usual second, Bixio, insisted on taking the pulse of Dumas before and after, as an experiment. Bixio also wanted to verify the unproven belief that all men, when shot, turned before they dropped dead. Unfortunately, neither Dumas nor Gaillart hit his mark. Fourteen years later, in 1848 Bixio was shot through the lungs during a Paris riot. Dumas was there. Bixio turned around three times and fell but managed to cry out, “Without any doubt of it one turns around!”
For me the common thread in Dumas, Sabatini and others is lasting friendship. This theme has cured me from ever wanting to read another American serial killer novel. From 1625, when the Three Musketeers
begins to 1673 when d’Artagnan is shot dead in The Man of the Iron Mask
in the battle of Maesticht, the saga follows the friendship of four men. They grow old; individually change loyalties and political sides but they always follow the dictum, “All for one and one for all.”
It was best put by Robert Louis Stevenson who read the Vicomte de Bragellone
at least five times. Of his second reading he wrote, “I would sit down with the Vicomte for a long, silent, solitary lamp-light evening by the fire. And yet I know not why I call it silent, when it was enlivened with such clatter of horse-shoes, and such a rattle of musketry, and such a stir of talk; or why I call these evenings silent in which I gained so many friends. I would rise from my book and pull the blind aside, and see the snow and the glittering hollies checker a Scotch garden, and the winter moonlight brighten the white hills. Thence I would turn again to the crowded and sunny field of life in which is was so easy to forget myself, my cares and my surroundings: a place as busy as a city, bright as a theatre, thronged with memorable faces, and sounding with delightful speech. I carried the thread of that epic into my slumbers, I woke with it unbroken, I rejoiced to lunge into the book again at breakfast, it was with a pang that I must lay it down and turn to my own labours; for no part of the world has ever seemed to me so charming as these pages, and not even my friends are quite as real, perhaps quite so dear, as d’Artagnan.”