Cheri P - Ecdysiast Extraordinaire
Saturday, March 24, 2007
On Christmas Eve 1966 my Argentine Merchant Marine ship the Río Aguapey docked in New Orleans. I decided to visit the city on my own and immediately went to the then notorious Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. I had never ever had a bourbon or seen a burlesque act so I followed some sailors into a club. I asked for my bourbon (it was terribly strong) and sat up front (in later years in Vancouver this was called "gynecology row"). A perfectly bored woman appeared on stage and she proceded to plug in an electrical cord to the wall oulet. This, I immediately found out was her music player. She then danced around looking extremely bored and by the time most of her clothes were off I was out of the joint. I left with the impression that the woman was some sort of robot who plugged herself in and then danced.
It was around 1978 that I finally overcame my curiousity to enter the Drake Hotel Pub Lounge. I had been told that terrible things happened here and that no decent young man (by then I was 34) would ever be caught in there. I sat down and ordered my beer. I felt obliged to order beer even though I have never liked it. On stage I saw a very young (20, at the most) blonde girl with a bob haircut and legs that seemed to go on forever. She danced with skill, energy and with a beautiful smile on her face. I was so enamoured that I returned again and I soon was a Vancouver fan of the ecdysiast art. I became a fan of Cheri (that was her name) and of Tarren Rae (the only girl who could compete with Cheri in having long and shapely legs).
Cheri (on the Drake stage, right) had been known to kick so high that she once managed to break her nose with one of her legs.
It didn't take me long to insinuate myself into the presence of these dance queens so that I could try out my new flash equipment and learn to make beautiful women more beautiful and prove Mac Parry, the editor of Vancouver Magazine
, wrong as he had asserted that I made beautiful women ugly and ugly women uglier.
Karen Campbell At Last
Friday, March 23, 2007
While working at Tilden Rent-A-Car some 30 years ago I decided to learn to swim with style so I took a stroke improvement class at the YMCA. A French-Canadian fellow swimmer found out I was a photographer and she asked me to take her portrait. I did not know that she worked at the gift department of Holt Renfrew nor did I know that she slipped my colour 8x10 prints into many of the frames of her deparment. Then one day Marlene Cohen (of Army & Navy fame) entered the gift department and I ended up taking portraits of the whole Vancouver Cohen family. It was Mrs Joe Cohen who told me to look up Gabriel Levy who was the fashion writer for Vancouver Magazine. Levy looked at my portraits and said (to my chagrin), "You are a good portrait photographer but you will never shoot fashion." He then gave me his card to take to Rick Staehling who was the art director at Vancouver Magazine. Shortly after I quit my job at Tilden and became a freelancer.
Except for once (a spread in Vancouver Magazine) I never shot fashion and I was jealous of all those photographers like Howard Fry who photographed beautiful women and were paid to do it. For some years in the late 80s to early 90s I shared a huge studio in Yaletown with Denis Montalbetti who did a lot of fashion. In particular I was jealous of his shooting the Vancouver super model Karen Campbell. One night in particular Karen Campbell was posing for him while in a corner I was taking portraits of Gavin Walker with his sax and Kool cigarettes. As much as I like and liked Gavin Walker I felt shortchanged.
In May 1989 John Lekich and I decided to correct the situation by offering the Georgia Straight
an article on a beautiful blonde ( who happened to be Karen Campbell). The Intro article saw the light of day. In those days it was enough to be beautiful and blonde. Or at least it was enough for editor Charles Campbell (no relation!).
Shortly before Levy died of AIDS in the early 90s he summoned me for a favour. He wanted me to shoot a couple of nude men for a calendar contest for a gay club called Neighbour's. The winner of the contest (one of the nude men)was going to have an expenses paid trip to Hawaii. During the shoot Levy confessed to me, "I was wrong about you. You are an excellent fashion photographer." Without him knowing his correction came too late to ruin my photographic career. In Vancouver, with the loss of Woodward's, Eaton's and Bay catalogues, had I been a fashion photographer I would not be in business now.
Pat Carney, Mark Budgen & Maldon Salt
Thursday, March 22, 2007
In the mid 80s Vancouver Magazine editor Mac Parry summoned freelance writer Mark Budgen. Mac wanted Budgen to write a profile on the influential Progressive Conservative MP, Pat Carney. It seems that Budgen (he does not deny this but does not remember his exact words) turned Mac down telling him that Carney's political position (right) did not fit with his own (left).
I have known Budgen for close to 30 years and we have traveled to Perú, Uruguay and Argentina on magazine assignments. In Buenos Aires godmother/first cousin Inesita O'Reilly Kuker was charmed my him but still gave him the nickname of Marx
because of his left-wing views.
A perhaps only a little less ethical Robert (Bob) Hunter accepted the Carney assignment and I was dispatched to take her picture in her Point Grey home. As soon as I found out that Carney had been born in Shanghai I had an idea. I showed up with make-up artist extraordinaire Inga Vollmer. Vollmer made her up and as soon as we were ready to shoot I asked Vollmer to give her some final touch ups. This was my signal for Vollmer to apply what in her consideration was "Chinese Dragon Lady" makeup. I do believe that Carney never looked any better.
Some years later I told writer Ben Metcalfe of my experience with Pat Carney. We were having after dinner cigars and coffee at his Shawnigan Lake cabin. My daughter Ale was there as she had been my assistant in a shoot at Shawnigan Lake School for a fund raising brochure. Ben told me, "When I was working at the Province this short and chubby girl would come to my desk for my copy. I could barely see the top of her head behind my typewriter. It was Pat Carney."
All these years Budgen and I have been friends and I particularly like dining (usually lunch) at his Strathcona Heritage house. Budgen is most frugal, but does not think twice about splurging on good cooking ingredients. He is an excellent cook. One day he had a little shallow porcelain container with little mysterious looking flakes. He passed me a bowl of hard-boiled eggs and told me to try them with the Maldon Salt. He mentioned how so many years ago the Danes had defeated the Saxons in a great battle on the Maldon Sea. "The sea salt that is evaporated from the Maldon Sea waters," budgen said, "has traces of the blood of those English."
I must add here that I am not the only one addicted to the delights of Maldon Salt. Rebecca, too, demands I serve it and when I am not looking she serves herself an extra pinch.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
A combination of circumstances have made me think of butter. It is spring and I remember that when we were living in Mexico there was a heavily advertised margarine called Margarina Primavera.
or Spring Margarine. There was no way I would have ever tried it as butter has always been the choice in our family. I cannot think of ever using margarine when I went to Aunt Iris's for tea in Buenos Aires. Aunt Iris Hayward made the best deviled ham in the world and to combine it with margarine on her home-made toast would have been a sacrilege.
Because I have a terrible cold I cannot taste anything so it seems that it is up to my imagination to satisfy my tastes. Just a few weeks ago Rebecca reminisced about medias lunas de grasa
. These are Argentine croissants made from lard and lard in Argentina is grasa
. These croissants are chewy and the extra brown ones dunked into café con leche
at the Café Richmond on Florida Street is close to being in heaven. Even Jorge Luis Borges knew that as he frequented the café, too.
On the other hand factura
(pastry) de manteca (Argentine for butter) is about as light as pastry can ever be. The idea of slathering dulce de leche
on a media luna de manteca
(a butter croissant) previously buttered with the usual unsalted Argentine spread makes me almost feel like taking the first plane to BA with Rosemary and Rebecca.
In Mexico butter is not manteca
as in Spain. Grasa
or lard in Argentina is manteca
I can never forget my grandmaother having breakfast or merienda (a Filipino/Spanish version of teatime). Abuelita would butter her bolillos
(Mexican French bread buns) with butter (she would have rejected margarine of any kind) then she would put tons of strawberry jam (Mexican strawberry jam has no equal) and then peanut butter. She would dunk it all into her extra sweet café con leche with a smile on her face like a kid about to eat chocolate cake.
Rosemary puts margarine on her toast (health reasons?) but she would never stop buying my Lactancia cultured and unsalted butter. I use it for everything including for all my cooking.
I think that anybody who has ever dunked buttered toast in strong tea must know that the butter that melts into the tea enhances the taste of the tea. Every once in a while when I don't want to make toast with my tea I will slip in a little chunk of butter into my steeping tea.
Rosemary and I do share a little quirky pleasure that would not work with margarine. Every once in a while she will buy a bag of pretzels and both us will scrape a butter stick with pleasure that must be as close to the one of my grandmother dunking her buttered bread into her coffee.
Blue Is The Colour of Spring
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Thinking about spring this morning it ocurred to me that most of my views about it are the same as those about patriotism, planting trees, saving money and the Argentine flag. These iconic concepts came to me early in school and I received them from influential teachers whom I either adored or feared. Some of these concepts such as patriotism and ahorro,
(saving money) were to be found in my textbooks that were put together by PR firms that answered to Juan and Evita Perón. Saving money came hand in hand with the Plan Quinquenal
(or 5-year plans) in which the Argentine government (Perón) was going to exceed all levels in five years to make our nation a worthy one. We were also told (and all city parks had the sign) that "En La Argentina los únicos privilegiados son los niños," or in Argentina only the children are the privileged ones.
Between the second grade and the third grade we had segundo superior
which was an in-between grade that was much tougher than second grade. Some of us who were deemed to possess higher IQs were plunked into it. I have long forgotten the name of my segundo superior teacher. She was strict but I was not afraid of her.
She taught us a different method (simpler she said) of writing the letter "q" in which you just crossed the vertical line instead of making the more difficult squiggle as seen here. I also remember the teacher and this class because a photographer took a classroom picture in which he used magnesium flash powder. I have never forgotten that flash and the poof.
When I gave spring some thought this morning I realized that only now, after all these years, have I stopped looking at the seasons, one at a time, as perfect entities. If you look closely at the daffodils that I scanned today, there is some slug damage. Spring isn't perfect and it already brings with it the decay of fall. I see seasons as brief stopovers into the next ones. The brand new shoe already has that first scuff on it. Accepting the seasons in this less than ideal way, as well as understanding the concepts of patriotism and saving money (in more realistic terms) would suggest that the innocence of youth is finally behind me!
Even the colours of spring have been fixed in my youth. Jacaranda mimosifolia
is a tree of my Argentina and my past. In spring, and then for at least two months they bloom bright blue. I cannot thing of a fresher colour than blue to bring in the idea of new things to come. I have never seen yellow or even pink as the colours of spring and Easter.
Jacaranda is a beautiful word from the beautiful language Guaraní which is spoken in northern Argentina, southern Brazil and is one of the two official (with Spanish) languages of Paraguay. This most melodic language stipulates that jacarandá should be pronounced as hacarandá. Properly said (you have to open your mouth for this and put special emphasis on that last syllable as if it were the poof of magnesium powder) jacarandá, the word, is as beautiful as the tree which has always coloured my springs blue. And I still cross my Qs.
The Corsican Hellebore & St. Helena
Monday, March 19, 2007
"St Helena, the place on earth farthest from any other place."
The Monsters of St Helena
I have been reading a delightful novel about Napoleon's days in St Helena and it has coincided with the emergence in my garden of Helleborus argutifolius
sometimes called the Corsican Rose since it can be found in Corsica and the Balearic islands. I like the plant because it is all apple green. We seem to ignore flowers that don't have lots of colour. The Corsican hellebore brings me the promise of the greenness of spring.
The novel is The Monsters of St Helena
by Brooks Hansen and it is full of detailed information on how Boney spent his last days in exile. True or not he befriends a teenage girl, Betsy Balcombe (the only one on the island who is not afraid of the "monster") and they indulge in pleasant conversation which transforms Napoleon into a delightful old man (true or not). In one of my favourite discourses:
His hair is so fine, she thinks, and silky. Like an infant's. "We had a tutor, Jane and I, but she left."
"This is not good. You will be ignorant." He sits up straight.
"What is the capital of France?"
He thinks. "And what is the capital of Russia?"
"Petersburg now. Moscow formerly."
"Very good." He pauses, slyly. "But do you know who set it on fire?" He leans towards her and his eyes glower. "Qui lá brûlé?"
She sits back. I do not know, sir."
Then they soften just as quickly. He smiles. "Yes, you do. You know very well that it was I who set Moscow on fire." He puffs his chest out like such a silly bird she cannot help herself.
"Oh, no, now I remember. It wasn't you. It was the Russians who burned it, to be rid of the French."
She is correct, and so he sits back with half a smile, conceding defeat. For now.
Karen Jamieson - A Wonderful Isolation
Sunday, March 18, 2007
My daughter Ale and I attended an all Karen Jamieson ( left, with Alosun Payne behind mask and Gregory Dominic Odjig) dance evening at the Roundhouse last night. We left completely exhausted, but not as exhausted as Caroline Farquar who carried Brian Solomon on her shoulders for most of the performance in Man Within
. After seeing so many women carry men (in Sisyphus
) I wondered how Jamieson finds dancers to dance in her grueling works.
Much was written in the previews that Jamieson's Sisyphus
was declared to be one of ten choreographic masterworks of the twentieth century by Danse Magazine
in 1983. Only one original peformer from the 1980 premiere returned. 60-year-old but very fit, Jay Hirabayashi, made the experience all that more satisfying and believable as a Sisyphus that has to dance for eternity without respite. While I never saw the original work this one seemed fresh, as if it had been choreographed weeks before. Hirabayashi's exhaustion was true.
But it was Jamieson's work that is based on Native Canadian ritual and dance that most appealed to me. Her Crow
was like watching the crows that congregate in my garden in the summer and her replication of a dying crow was as real as the ones that have died in my garden from some mysterious virus. In Elmer and Coyote
Jamieson paired off with the strikingly handsome and elegant Byron Chief-Moon. He looked like an elder from the past wearing a modern suit.
Some years ago I heard noted luteninsts Stephen Stubbs and Paul O'Dette explain that they had traveled to Paraguay to study how natives there played the mandolin. It seems that the methods for playing a baroque mandolin and guitar had been forgotten in time but those very methods were still in effect in modern Paraguay.
I often wonder why so few (I could be writing here in complete ignorance) native communities have ever adapted their dance and song to modern specifications. My impression is that Jamieson (right, with an elder from Stone Soup
) almost works in complete isolation. Her results are wondrous and I will never quite look at a crow in the same way.