Paul Leisz - The Frugal Bus Driver
Saturday, September 23, 2006
I married the first Canadian I met (Rosemary) in Mexico 40 years ago. When we came to Canada in 1975 I became friends with the second Canadian I met, Paul Leisz. Paul was born in Hungary and came here with his parents as a young boy. Paul has driven a bus for the last 20 years. 30 years ago Paul taught me the fine Canadian sport of sitting very near the woman's bathroom of the Fraser Arms pub. "They all have to pass by our table, sooner or later." Paul was also of that generation that owned a TR-6 which he drove every year to Penticton. Paul is frugal even though I have never heard Hungarians boast that they invented the bagpipes. His frugality has led him to finding ways of repairing anything and always finding the best deals. I have often profitted from his deals. My computer, which Paul supervises and nurses, has never crashed. Its record is as fine as his own bus driving record. For my first computer Paul took me to a small shop on Bridgeport road and we ordered my computer by components. If I am computer literate and still in this tough photo business I can only credit Paul for having pushed and dragged me into it so that I am competive today.
I have always been fascinated by trains and buses. One of the high moments of my life came when I was given a radio and the authority to stop a CP train (3 times) at the Sisco bridge near Lytton, BC. I felt as close to God as I have ever been! A couple of times I have felt as important and all because of Paul. One Christmas Eve many years ago Rosemary and I went to a corner store to buy some forgotten item for a Christmas dinner. As we left the store a trolley bus stopped right there and Paul emerged from the bus to give us a hug and he stayed and chatted.His passengers stared at us wondering who we were. On a second occasion I was crossing Seymour at Davie street when suddenly a trolley bus stopped while turning and Paul, again jumped out to greet me!
A bus driver has an intimate view and feel for our city and I am very lucky to know Paul so that he is able to share with me that unique view. The years have passed and I no longer play racquet ball with him. I stopped when a ball that Paul had driven went through my racket. I feared for my life. His visits over Earl Grey tea are more relaxing and satisfying.
On October 20th Paul and I are going to attend the West Coast Symphony's all Hungarian concert at Christ Church Cathedral. The conductor is Leslie Dala (right) my new Hungarian friend. Perhaps some day Leslie may give me the opportunity to start or stop an orchestra! Here you see Paul with the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra's Barbara Dominik and VPO and Westcoast Symphony's Byan Deans. The bus is a E-901 1982 series Flyer.Hungarian concert
Sting, Little Mary, Message In a Bottle & The Bombshell Blond
Friday, September 22, 2006
Last night I was talking to this bombshell blond who sports dramatic eyeliner at a Georgia Straight party on Granville Island. They were playing The Police's Message in a Bottle
. I happened to mention that it was one of my all time favourite songs. It seems that at age 14, when BB (bombshell blond) first heard the song, she was lured away from mainstream music. Perhaps that song influenced her later sentimental decisions.
I remember the first time I ever heard that song. It was shortly after The Police album Regatta de Blanc
was released in 1979. I was nursing a dry pear cider at the Number 5 Orange. The tiny 5ft tall dancer "Little Mary" had come down the lucite stairs from the ceiling dressing room to the sounds of Frank Sinatra. Little Mary looked around 16. Maybe she was 17. After the two Sinatra songs, everything was off and suddenly I heard Message in a Bottle
. I kept humming it long after Mary went up the stairs. I enquired from Harry Brandolini (one of the proprietors of the joint) who Little Mary (above, left) was. It seemed that being short was a family tradition and Little Mary had a jockey brother. Little Mary, when not watched, could go through the bar's whole Grand Marnier stock in one day. I later found out that Little Mary could fill the Coliseum without a sound system. Her French was as foul as it could be. But then there was that smile and that fondness for Sinatra and The Police. Through the years I have kept in touch with Mary Arnold. When I last saw her she was designing and sewing fantastic costumes for modern dancer Cori Caulfield.
I photographed Sting for the first time in 1980. He told writer Les Wiseman and me that his band was going to be the next Beattles. We thought he was a pretentious Brit SOB. We were proven wrong.
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life but
Love can break your heart
Message in a Bottle - The Police
BB, that 45rpm record on the right contains a rare live version. How about tea?
Lisa Milroy, Bette Davis & Stephen J. Cannell
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Sometime in 1982 I went to the Banff TV Film Festival. I had a job in the daily newspaper published during the week long festival. The job had been originally offered to still photographer Chris Halcermanas-Benge who had decided to stay in Vancouver to photograph Bette Davis during the making of A Piano For Mrs Cimino
. Two events made that week memorable. I met Stephen J Cannell. In a seminar in which participants paid $150 for the honour (I went in for free) he told us that the three-act system is the only way a TV series will ever work. In act 1 you introduce the hero. In act 2 you bring in the conflict and the villain. Act 3 is the resolution. And that was that!
The other event of note was meeting one of the festival amanuensis. Her name was Lisa Milroy. She reminded me of a cross between Katherine Hepburn and Charlotte Rampling. When she spoke she sounded like Audrey Hepburn. I was charmed by her for a whole week. On the final night there was a formal (buffet) dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel. The men wore tuxedos (even I wore one) and the women beautiful evening gowns. I was lined up for the roast beef, juggling a very large and very hot empty plate. I heard that Hepburn voice. I turned around and behind me a radiant Lisa Milroy was wearing a pale green and very low cut gown. She was chatting with a friend (alas! there had been some vague rumours about this), a Frenchman who had directed and produced a film on Pier Paolo Pasolini. One of her straps had slipped and one of her breasts was completely exposed. Without thinking I moved my plate to her chest ( I didn't burn her nipple!) and I said (I swear it came out automatically),"A plate in time saves nine."
Back in Vancouver I photographed her in my Burnaby basement studio. Lisa moved to London to become a painter. She is married to British art filmaker Paul Bush and has two children.
Xirau - Epicurus, The Streetcar & Columbus' Caravel
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
|Photo by John Sullivan|
In 1962 I took my first university course in philosophy at the University of the Americas in Mexico City. My professor was Ramón Xirau Subias. I learned to love him for his passion, erudition and his gentleness. I attended almost two years of Xirau classes. He had come to Mexico in 1939 with his father, the Catalonian philosopher Joaquín Xirau Palau in exile from Franco's Spain. We had the unconfirmed story that deep in a philosophical conversation with his father, while walking on the street on April 10, 1946, they had not heard the clanging of the coming streetcar and Xirau père had died instantly.
While I was never Xirau's star student (that X is pronounced sh), my enthusiasm for the man helped me keep up and understand what he tried to expose us to. We would often have to interrupt him when he would start lighting his cigarettes from the filter side. His examination method consisted in giving us 10 questions a week in advance. On the day of the exam he would put 10 numbered papers in a box and someone in class would pick two.
Of all that he taught us, what most remained was his explanation on Epicurus and his concept of death. "Death," Epicurus wrote, "is nothing to us because at the moment we die—the instant we cease to exist—we experience nothing." Xirau then told us, "So you see, there is no reason to fear death." Looking into Xirau's smiling eyes when he said that, has left me with no doubt that when I see death in the face it will be Xirau.
With all that philosphy under my belt I decided that patriotism was important so I did not try to avoid the Argentine draft. After all, Socrates had happily served in the Greek army (they say to escape his shrewish Xanthippe). My "patriotism" was rewarded with a two-year stint in the Argentine Navy instead of a shorter year in the army. Philsophy did not help me through the ordeals of bootcamp. During a rest period, while I was reading Aldous Huxley's Mono y Esencia
the corporal caught me. He yelled at me, "That little finger that sticks out while you read that useless book, you can stick it up your.... The only monkey here is you," and he tore my book to shreds. For days I had to do extra running and pushups. Bootcamp over, and with tears in my eyes, I lined up with my fellow sailors to swear allegiance to our flag and to protect our country's constitution. A few months later we were ordered to surround the Casa Rosada
during a coup. The president, Arturo Illia, went home in a cab and the next day we had no constitution. "So much, for patriotism, "I thought. The first military decree, after eliminating the constitution and political parties was to specify the exact watts of light per square meter in Buenos Aires nightclubs (notorious for their lack of light)so that "our youth will not be led into base morals and at the same time be able to count their money."
The only way I could fight the military system I now loathed, was to refuse to have my hair cut or to plainly disobey orders. A rear admiral, one of my bosses, called me to his office and told me, "In war time I could have you shot. I could also send you to Antarctica where the only females you will see will be penguins. But since I need you to translate documents you will spend nights in the brig for a month and you will work here in my office. The first thing you will do is to go out, right now, and get a haircut."
I went to get my haircut and visited Pygmalion, the English bookstore on Corrientes Avenue. There I purchased, in preparation for my locked up nights,
1. The Philosophy of Hegel
edited by Carl J. Friederich.
by Dag Hammarskjöld translated by Leif Sjöberg and W.H. Auden.
3. The Philosophy of Man
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I can safely say that almost all of Hegel that went "in", rapidly went "out" undigested. Chardin impressed me in that he was a Jesuit who managed to write a whole book without mentioning God until the end. It was Hammarskjöld who has been with me always. When I try to imagine what he looks like he always looks like Xirau. My favourite quote from Markings is:
He was a member of the crew from Columbus' caravel - he
kept wondering whether he would get back to his home
village in time to succeed the old shoemaker before anybody
else could grab the job.
Ramón Xirau (82) is alive and well and living in Mexico City.
Evil At The Piano
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I took Rebecca to her piano lesson with Nikolai Maloff yesterday afternoon. It was a tough class and Rebecca insisted that the piece she had to play was evil. She repeated this several times so that finally Nikolai (a very gentle man except when he attempts to demolish his piano during Beethoven piano concerto recitals) took her aside and told her, "This piece is not evil. Ask your parents the meaning of this word. Don't use it to describe our piano music."
I distinctly remember one time when I was around 6, when my mother was combing me that she said, "Alex, with your hair the way it is you look like Hitler." "Who's Hitler?" I asked. "He was a very bad man," she replied.
Outside I explained as best as I could that all humans have the capacity for being good or for being evil. I told her that most times our good side is in charge. I mentioned Hitler. "He was a bad man, wasn't he?" she asked me. "No," I replied, "He was a lot worse. He was evil." I proceeded to explain Auschwitz, the showers and zyklon B. When we arrived at her house she asked, "Did water come out of those showers?" I replied, "No." We didn't say anything more.
A couple of years ago I photographed Vancouver playwright Jonathan Teague (above). He had written a play featuring Hitler's SS. I remember telling Teague about the hair over my forehead when I was a little boy.
Angus Reid - The Man Who Never Was
Monday, September 18, 2006
When Equity's de facto editor Mike Campbell called me up to ask me to photograph Angus Reid sometime in the early 90s I did not believe him. How could I photograph a poll company? I had never seen a photograph of this man that Campbell said existed. At the time Angus Reid was very careful to stay out of the news so that his company could do its job.
Mike Campbell and I showed up at Reid's West Vancouver home and I found two ways of taking pictures of the man who wasn't who suddenly was. I photographed him cooking in the kitchen and being licked by his dog. Both photographs had to be proof of Reid's existence. I remember that Campbell's conservatively loaded questions during the interview frustrated the liberal leaning Reid. Reid put an end to it by telling Campbell that he was not going to tell Campbell what Campbell wanted him (Reid) to tell him!
Recently I have seen many pictures of Angus Reid and I fondly recall that I was one of the first to photograph the man who never was.
Romeo & Juliet & The Harlot
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Perhaps 9 is some sort of rite of passage as I shared one yesterday with Rebecca.
I took her to Jean Grand-Maitre's Romeo and Juliet ballet performed by the Alberta Ballet & The Banff Centre at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. As I found myself explaining to Rebecca how Romeo had missed his cue about the fact that Juliet was not really dead and only seemed so, I remembered. I remember my mother taking me to see George Cukor's Romeo and Juliet with Leslie Howard (my mother's idol) and Norma Shearer when I was 9. She too had explained the intricacies of Shakespeare's plot.
Around 1994 I saw the perfect Romeo and Juliet, one day after a not so perfect one. I had gone to watch Evelyn Hart and her Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the Queen Elizabeth only to find out that since Evelyn Hart's partner was down with the flu she was not dancing either. I stormed out of the theatre and demanded my money back. My demand was rejected and when I was a couple of blocks away I remembered, "Alex, the music. It's live and it is Sergei Prokofiev."
I returned to a thoroughly entertaining performance without Evelyn Hart. A publicist called me in the evening and offered me a ticket to next day's performance where she all but guaranteed that Hart would perform. And of course it was perfect.
I loved Jean Grand-Maitre's version of the classic. I loved all the magnificent sword fights and I specially liked Mercutio's taunting of Tybalt with a funny homosexual overtone.
Juliet was no Evelyn Hart but she was very young, very blond, very beautiful and very believable as a young girl that Romeo would fall for. Her dancing was exquisite. When things got more complicated this Juliet, Leigh Allardyce, grew up convincingly. Jonathan Renna (who told us he had butterflies since it was his first Vancouver performance) was perfect for Romeo. Rebecca fell for him, so that was enough for me. And of course there was that live Prokofiev by the Vancouver Symphony.
We finished our day with a whipping cream and strawberries crepe at a Robson Street creperie with Sandrine Cassini (one of her multiple parts in the performance was that of a harlot and I had a bit of problem explaining that to Rebecca).
With us were two other Alberta Ballet dancers. I enjoyed listening to Rebecca chat with Sandrine. Rebecca told her about her new jazz dance teacher, Ballet BC's Edmund Kilpatrick (seen here with Sandrine in her Carmen role).
But as we walked on Robson on our way home, the best was yet to come. "Papi," Rebecca said, "You were the only one at the table who wasn't a dancer."