Butterflies, Locusts, Fireflies & Pharaoh's Egypt
Saturday, May 05, 2007
There were so many locusts in our Buenos Aires garden one year in my youth that we could barely see the blue sky. My mother and Mercedes, our housekeeper, banged pans with their lids in a futile effort to scare the large green monsters away. A few weeks later the sky was blotted out by waves and waves of white butterflies. The ten plagues of Egypt that finally convinced Pharaoh to release the Israelites were no simple bible tales that had been read to me at Sunday School. Our own plagues were my early dose of cinéma vérité.
Then there was the year that my mother almost burned down one of our huge palm trees. She was out at night hunting for slugs (with scissors) and held a candle in one hand to see. She got too close to the palm (Buenos Aires is a city of palms and jacarandás
) that the dry peeling bark caught fire and it spread like a pirate gunpowder keg to the top in a flash. By the time the bomberos
arrived the fire had gone out as quickly as it had begun. It was a miracle to me that the palm tree survived as our plum trees somehow survived the locusts.
Our garden had all matter of interesting insects and bugs. We had large black ants and large read ones that I avoided as they had a painful sting. We had four-inch-long rhinoceros beatles and at night in the summer, fireflies were in such abundance that we would sit in the garden to watch them while my father drank his mate and my mother her tea. I was given milk with a chocolate powder called Tody
. I really liked it because Tody sponsored my weekly radio program, Tarzán (El Rey de la Jungla
). My all-time favourite episode featured a totem pole (?) made of a mysterious substance called radium. I had cut out Tarzan's picture from the Tody container and glued it on my turtle's plastron (the under part of the carapace). It was this turtle that had a fondness for hybernating under a pile of fall leaves. One year my mother gave me permission to burn the leaf piles and......I remember crying to my mother, "I murdered my turtle!"
I spent a lot of time in the garden as there were several fruit trees to climb and sample including plum trees that had green plums (yellow on the inside), yellow plums (yellow on the inside) red plums (yellow on the inside), red plums (almost black on the inside) and a tree of special plums that were a cross with a cherry tree. When I wasn't sampling the plums I was waiting patiently for the níspero
to ripen. I avoided the brevas
(the early figs) and the figs that followed. When they splatted on the brick path they looked so unsightly that I developed a distaste for them. I hated the tree because its smooth bark discouraged my climbing. And one bite of an unripe persimon, from the tree my father insisted on calling the khaki, cured me from ever trying this fruit again.
Two summers ago I bought a used Nikon FM-2 from Leo's Camera and tested it with one roll. I snapped a few pictures of Rebecca and her butterfly/koy net by the rose bed in the waning days of that August summer. The exposure metre did not work so I returned the camera. Perhaps I should have kept it. This photograph is one of Rosemary's favourite photographs of our granddaughter.
While Rebecca did see Buenos Aires fireflies three summers ago I have yet to tell her about the ten plagues of Pharaoh's Egypt and the year of the butterflies and the locusts.
Frida Betrani & Ross Weber's No More Monkeys Jumpin' On The Bed
Friday, May 04, 2007
I had been looking for this photograph for a long time but I could not remember either the name of the movie or the director. So the photo lay buried in my files since I took it in September 2000. I had been assigned then to take a picture for the cover of the Straight
(one of those now rare photographic covers) and the instructions were to make the picture look gritty like the movie.
It is no accident that the man (or woman) in charge of the camera work during the making of a movie is called the director of photography. When I met up with director Ross Weber and his cast of 6 actors at house in East Vancouver I felt a bit like a director of photography. I had fun arranging the actors in my frame.
Taking pictures of more than three people is very much like taking pictures of a rock band, which is no different from snapping one's family. I use the same technique to photograph a group of lawyers. The secret is to place the persons, one at at time, in your location of choice. In this case it was a bed.
It was very difficult not to notice Frida Betrani as seen here in the centre of the photo so I had to place director Ross Weber in the front to give him a better chance to stand out.
With digital cameras (the very expensive ones) only now being able to expose at the extremely fast ISO (light sensitivity) of 3200 it is interesting to note that back in 2000 Ilford's Delta 3200 was a cutting edge film for medium format cameras like mine.
Nina Gouveia - Mano A Mano
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Some 12 years ago I received a phone call from Adrian du Plessis
who wanted a favour. He had a friend who had the ambition of being a photographer and he wondered if I could help her. That is how I met Nina Gouveia who ended up being my Tina Modotti.
As a young teenager I had lived with my family on Avenida Tamaulipas in Mexico City, about two blocks from Avenida Yucatán where Edward Weston had taken a nude photograph of Tina Modotti (Tina on the Azotea) on the roof of the house he was renting in 1924. Only now do I understand the wonderful significance as I treasure Edward Weston's Daybooks
. Through the years I have read them often and I was jealous of his bohemian existence and of being able to ask the beautiful Modotti to follow him up to the roof for some photographs.
Nina may have learned some photography from me but it all happened because she faced my camera and only rarely did we take photographs together. The first time, when she came to my studio we had a mano a mano
with my camera. I would take a picture of her and then she would immediately take a picture of me until we exhausted a 20 exposure roll. Here are two from that series (the one with her upturned hat above). We also photographed her friend Bif a couple of times. In one of the sessions we used Toni Ricci's excellent penthouse in his Marble Arch Hotel (the Paris Hilton of our fair city) as seen, below.
Nina was quite short and darkish. She had been born in British Guiana and I always suspected her parents were gypsies because they moved a lot. Nina always looked ten years younger than she really was. I always made fun of her taste for big boots which always made her look even shorter.
Because she was a yoga instructor she had tremendous flexibility and strength for posing and for keeping her poses.
Luckily I did realize from early on that she was a photographic treasure and I photographed her often but not as often as I would have wanted until she and her family picked up sticks and moved to Spain.
My friend, Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sanchez loved to work with Nina and we did several joint projects that we called "colaboraciones". He said that Nina was very "plástica" by which he meant her flexibility and tone. Nina not only posed in silence but she also had her own ideas.
In one she wanted me to photograph her with a strippers's tassle. We also had great fun transforming her old apartment on Maine Street into a temporary 1940s Mexican house of ill repute just for an afternoon and just for my camera.
A Rose, A Bathtub & Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law Of Motion
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
I am not sure that learning how to diagram a sentence ever led to me seeing the light or to apply it to everyday living.
But I can safely say that there are two pieces of knowledge learned at school that I have been able to apply in a practical and useful manner. Both have some connection to water and to Sir Isaac Newton. Every couple of years I have to drain my fishpond. This used to be a messy job until I remembered that if I put a hose in the pond and sucked on the end and placed the hose in a lower part of the garden, the pool would drain by itself thanks to gravity. If I drained the pond on my rose bed I found that the pond water, rich in organic silt, gave me bigger and more plentiful roses in May and June.
For years I have known how gravity affects the human body. Never more so than now when at age 64 I look at myself in the mirror. This means that I have known to never photograph a woman on her back as gravity pulls down and makes her look fat. But I accidentally learned that there was a happy exception and that you could place a woman on her back, as long as she was in a tub of water. This is a prime example that confirms Newton's Third Law of Motion that states formally:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Water in a tube gently pushes back (counteracting gravity) on a woman's body lifting any part of her body that just might sag!
Since I have been of late writing about roses, here we have a photograph of Rose (I have long forgotten her last name) showing how Newton's Third Law works. As for Rose blowing into the water both Newton and competitor Huygens would have argued about the wave-particle duality.
Rosemary's Exclusive Talent
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Rosemary has an exclusive talent for seeing beauty and garden worthiness in plants that I often not notice. A case in point is Lathrys vernus
the spring flowering member of the pea (and sweet peas) family. The Royal Horticultural Society says of this plant:These pretty, ground-hugging spring peas can be found to the right of the main track to the Fruit and Vegetable Garden, just after crossing the bridge over the stream. At a time of year when yellow flowers (daffodils, primroses, celandines) and blue flowers (bluebells, Anemone blanda, grape hyancinths) predominate, it is refreshing to come across an unusual plant with distinctively different colouring. Grown at Rosemoor for the first time in 2004, Lathyrus vernus proved to be very popular with our visitors.
Of the plant itself the RHS says:This is a clump-forming, herbaceous perennial with upright, angular stems, mid- to dark-green leaves, with two to four pairs of sharp, pointed, pinnate leaflets, up to 8cm (3in) long.
The flowers are produced in short racemes of up to six flowers, 2cm (0.8in) in length, reddish-purple in colour and becoming shaded greenish-blue with age.
The plant may cause mild stomach upset if ingested.
Rosemary rapidly loses interest in the plants that make her excited and she shifts to her next find. When she noticed roses I thought she was crazy. She dragged me to boring meetings of the Vancouver Rose Society that featured slide shows of badly photographed roses. Worst of all the chairs of VanDusen's Floral Hall were hard. The same happened when she had a preference for hardy geraniums. When I became interested in the geraniums she was into ferns. And so it has been through the years as our garden changes as our interests shift. If this were not the case and both of us loved roses (as I love roses) we would have 1000 roses and nothing else!
Bless Rosemary for her exclusive tastes.
The Name Of A Rose
Monday, April 30, 2007
Roses are beautiful, they are fragrant (the ones in my garden are), they have elaborate and an interesting history and, best of all, they have names that conjure all kinds of romantic images.
It escapes me that Shropshire rose breeder, David Austin would name one of the best of his really red roses(and the redest in my garden)after his father-in-law, Leonard Braithwaite. How much romance can there be in the name Rosa
The Belgians and the Frenchmen of the 19th century knew how to name their roses. In a man's world some of the roses were named after men's wives without ever giving a hint as to their real names. As an example one of the most delicate of my Bourbon Roses, a sport of Rosa
'Reine Victoria', is Rosa
'Mme Pierre Ogier', below.
It has the same delightfull shape of a ping-pong ball but instead of being deep pink it is a delicate shade of white with pink overtones. Who was Pierre Oger? We don't know. French hybridizer Margottin named his best Bourbon 'Louise Odier', below, in 1851.
We don't know who she is. I have often been tempted to buy Rosa
'Mme Isaac Pereire', also a Bourbon bred by Garcon in 1881. This rose has the reputation of having the most fragrance of any rose. What is interesting is that we do know who Mme Isaac Pereire is. She was the wife of a Parisian banker. His name suggests that he was perhaps a Jew with Sephardic roots. His wife may have been (in my imagination) a woman similar in looks to Shakespeare's Dark Lady. I may go back to Free Spirit Nursery in Langley as he has a couple of Mme Isaac Pereires. I could have bought her yesterday when I visited Lambert's Free Spirit but I fell for another name, a rose called Rosa
'Ghislaine de Féligonde'. French breeder Turbat named this rose in 1916 after a now unknown Flemish woman. That first name is pronounced Elaine.
Tune in here in June as I will post a scan of this small climber with orange-yellow flowers that grow in large clusters.
Rosa 'Agnes' , John Tuytle & The VanDusen Plant Sale
Sunday, April 29, 2007
This entry is a sad one for me. For 18 years I attended (bright and early around 7am) the once a year VanDusen Botanical Garden Plant Sale held today. As I write I this morning I am not on that line. I am sure that it would not have taken me much effort to find a few gems for my garden at the sale in spite of the trend (a decline of sorts) in local plant sales. Fewer and fewer older gardeners are around to divide their plants and donate them to plant sales. There are fewer instances of gardeners at VanDusen dividing plants from that garden. So more and more of these plant sales are simply no different from going to local nurseries. In fact many of the plants in today's VanDusen sale will be plants purchased from those nurseries. The chances of finding those hard-to-find specimens are slim. In years past I found rare hydrangeas and dwarf conifers.
Best of all it was at VanDusen where my interest in buying and collecting fragrant or otherwise interesting roses began. It began because of the pleasant volunteers from the Vancouver Rose Society who would be there to recommend and enthuse me. Christine Allen, who propagated old roses decamped to Australia last year and this year my Dutch/Canadian friend, John Tuytle (83) has decided not to attend and he scrapped his old and rare rose "business" last year because of heart problems.
Johne Tuytle has a sheep farm in Langley but he no longer has lambs. "To much trouble," he told me last week. In this farm any gardener would go nuts as I have the times I have been there. Not only does John have the best and rarest roses in his gardens he has a special green thumb for eryngiums. The largest I have ever seen I saw there and the bluest of blue specimens were in his garden. John is also a carpenter/artist and his gates, fences, bird houses are a delight.
Every year at the VanDusen sale I would run over to the roses to ask John what he had brought and he would proudly point to this one and that one. One year I remember I was looking for an extrememly rare plant that was one of the parents of David Austin's first English Rose, the myrrh fragranced Rosa
'Constance Spry'. "Do you have Belle Isis?" I asked John. I pronounced the latter part of the name to rhyme with crisis. With a twinkle behind his glasses (John twinkles a lot) he said, "I don't know about that rose but here I have Rosa
'Belle Isis'," and he pronounced it in the correct French.
John's interest in propagating hard-to-find roses was never really a business as he only brought his roses to the VanDusen sale and a few others found themselves at Christine Allen's little Langley Rose nursery (now sadly closed).
My relationship and friendship with John began in late July, 2000. It was then that Canada Post comissioned me to find and photograph 6 Canadian roses that would then be paired down to four that would ultimately become stamps in August, 2001. As things go with requests of a botanical nature by those who have no idea of when plants bloom I knew I was in trouble, Most roses flower in late May and June and by July they either stop blooming or they do so sporadically.
Only John had the rare (for BC as it does not grow well in our rains) 1922 Rosa
' Agnes'. This rose, a relative of the extremely hardy Japanese rugosas, was the first ever yellow rugosa. It was perhaps the first famous Canadian rose. For weeks I called John to ask him how his Agnes was doing. It wasn't! Then one day in the beginning of a very hot day in August he called, "Come now, she is in bloom. There are two flowers." Like a shot I drove to Langley only to find a couple of flowers that that were beginning to wane in the heat. Somehow I managed. I feel, to this day that Rosa
'Agnes' cemented a bond between the kindly Dutch man and me. I don't quite believe John when he told me a few years later, "She was a terrible rose, I burned her."
As property becomes more expensive in our area younger people are buying condominiums and the need for a garden is curtailed. Nurseries are going through a terrible stage trying to find ways of enticing old timers like me to return while at the same time "training" the young crowd to develop a passion for plants and gardens.
I am sure that it will all change for the better soon. But why would anybody want to buy a painting or a photograph to put in the living room when a large plasma TV can replace and be much more "interactive"? Gardening is hard work. It is far better to stay inside and watch vicariously someone talk about someone else's garden. It seems that both the photography/art and nursery business is going through an unexpected transition.
Until things change I can only treasure John's roses in my garden.
This is a sad entry because I cannot post a picture of John. I never got around to it. John has invited Rebecca and me to visit him in the fall. I will make sure I take his portrait.