Saturday, July 21, 2007
Rosemary and I were school teachers in Mexico City 35 years ago. We decided to sell our house and move to Vancouver. We quit our jobs thinking that the house would sell quickly. It didn't. I had to make money, some way. With a very used Pentax S-3 and three lenses I started taking portraits of children and teenagers for wealthy Mexican families. The business took off and I was being referred from one family to another without having to promote myself. The business had its downs because of my primitive darkroom equipment and having to dry mount b+w photographs (it was the rage to stick a photograph on thick wood whose edges were painted black) with a common clothes iron. We finally sold the house even though my neighbours were urging me to stay as I was making good money. On the way to Vancouver we stopped in LA (we drove a VW Beatle with a roof rack and had our daughters in the back seat)and I purchased better equipment. A few years later, sometime in 1977 or 1978 I made a trade with Mexicana to go to Oaxaca, Yucatán and Chiapas where I visited an almost deserted and rainy Palenque. Because I stopped over in Mexico City for a few days one of the wealthy families asked me to photograph their children again. They were particularly proud of one of their daughters as she was beautiful and almost blonde.
Looking through my Mexican photographs I located this one contact sheet that had three disparate images on the one page. One was of the young girl (I used vaseline, how terrible!), another was a Mexicana DC-9 (horrors I used vaseline on that one, too) and the last was the interior of the cave at Loltúm in Yucatán. Of the latter I remember the great heat and a humidity that made it seem like I was taking a warm shower.
But today Saturday we have learned that the heat is most intense from April to late June so we have missed a bit of it. The temperatures hover around 84 and the breezes in our hotel make it seem even less. The hotel is odd in a very nice way. Many of the areas, including the front desk are in the open air so they cannot be air conditioned. But our room and other specific meeting rooms do have air conditioning. The hotel pool, unlike most pools this day is a real one with a deep end and Rebecca is practicing her dives. Rebecca has fallen in love with the hotel b black cat called Michò. Our breakfast waiter, explained that the word is cat in Mayan.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Today we finally left the state of Texas. Nothing in Texas is ever in moderation. As an example Howard´s twin cab Ford 150 (King Ranch Edition) is huge and I always forgot to use the running board to get off and managed to fall off a few times. The ciccadas were vibrating through most of the afternoons. The noise is the kind that wants me to sleep siesta. It reminded me of the lazy afternoons in Corrientes in Argentina. Rebecca fished for the first time in her life. Howard was a patient teacher. And because it was Texas Rebecca had extraordinary good begginer´s luck. She caught five perch. She was also attacked by Texas chiggers and has been suffering the consequences. As we left Kingsland we said goodbye to Curly the dromedary, to Howard and Lynne (at the San Antonio airport) but not before going through heavy rain that hit the windshield with extraordinary force. The distant thunder was a noisy goodbye from my Texas, the state in which I made the transition from a boy to a man.
When our airplane landed in Merida we immediatly were subjected to the noises of Mexico which to me (particularly when I haven´t been in Mexico)is music. Our hotel, Casa del Balam (paradoxically while I am able to insert accents in my Vancouver computer the ladies here at my nearby internet cafe do not know how to get one)is smack in the middle of the city. I look forward to hearing the bells of the cathedral, la catedral metropolitana, on Sunday morning. Our hotel, on Calle 60, is in the area where all streets are cut off to traffic on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday so that musicians and dancers can show off. I am sure that we will be able to listen to some band like the one here which I photographed in San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
One of the great perks of my 1997 trip to Mexico is that I had a blanket permit to shoot whatever I wanted from the Tourism Secretary. I don't remember exactly where I photographed this skull but I do remember that a tourist asked me how I had managed to obtain permission. A skull in Spanish is calavera
. I like its sound. It is musical and scary at the same time.
On Thursday we went to the Johnson City Zoo and fed some animals. They converged around our caged cart as it began to rain. Rebecca was feeding them and I saw the sad eyes of some large deer-like animals that Rebecca called Moosettes. I became sad as the rain soaked us. I thought of death and of a passage from John Lloyd Stephens's Incidents of Travels In Central America, Chiapas And Yucatan
.Go where we will, to the uttermost parts of the earth, we are sure to meet one acquaintance. Death is always with us. In the afternoon was the funeral of a child. The procession consisted of eight or ten grown persons, and as many boys and girls. The sexton carried the child in his arms, dressed in white with a wreath of flowers around his head. All were huddled around the sexton, walking together; the father and mother with him. I happened to be in the church as they approached. The floor of the church was earthen, and the grave was dug inside, and the father seemed proud that he could give his child such a burial place. The sexton laid the child in the grave, folded its little hands across its breast, placing there a small rude cross, covered it over with eight or ten inches of earth, and then got into the grave and stamped it down with his feet. He then got out and threw in more, and, going outside the church, brought back a pounder, being a log of wood about four feet long and ten inches in diameter, and again takinghis place in the grave, threw up the pounder to the full swing of his arm, and brought it down with all his strength over the head of his child. My blood ran cold. As he threw it up a second time I caught his arm and remonstrated with him, but he said that they always did so with those buried inside the church; that the earth must be all put back, and the floor of the church made even. My remonstrances seemed only to give him more strength and spirit. The sweat rolled sown his body, and when perfectly tired with pounding he stepped out of the grave. But this was nothing. More earth was thrown in, and the father laid down his hat, stepped into the grave, and the pounder wasa handed to him. I saw him throw it up twice and bring it down with a dead, heavy noise.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
We made it to Seattle on Sunday Night and on Monday we flew to Houston. Howard was waiting for us at the airport in San Antonio. It was a special thrill to to hug someone I had not seen for 46 years. It was odd to listen to Howard's Texan accent. It seemed to me that special effort had to be made to talk like that. I am sure he thought the same about my Canadian accent. It was also odd to drive with Howard on a the highway to his house in Buchanan Dam, Texas. The scenery was familiar. In my memory the conifers and the mountains of my Vancouver were the ones that seemed alien. Having lived four years of my life when I was a teenager in Texas I was really home.
Howard, his wife Lynne, Rosemary, Rebecca and I headed in Howard's white 1994 Lincoln ("It has seating room to accomodate Brother Edwin, " he told me.)to Austin. The red roof tower of the main building of St. Ed's was more thrilling to see than the tall (the tallest of any state capitol or the one in DC) Texas State Capitol. The main building was as imposing (if not bigger) than I imagined it in my memory. And there was Brother Edwin much shorter that I remembered him. Rosemary is five three so she calculates he must be five ft at the most. Brother Edwin gave us a tour of the completly modified and re-furbished building. I could not see the high ceilings of the dorms where I slept when I was in grade nine and grade ten. My room in grade eleven was converted to a men's and a woman's batrhoom and my grade 12 space was the elevator.
After taking panoramic pictures of the building with the almost anachronistic presence of Rebecca we told Brother Edwin we would return in the afternoon to take him to the County Line for a Texas barbecue.
Of my experience with Albert Einstein at the H Ransom Center at the University of Texas and of eating liver and onions at Furr's Cafeteria I will write some other post.
Brother Edwin confirmed in spades the excellence of the education I obtained at St. Edward's High School. At 75 Brother Edwin is enthusiastic and fit. I did not remember him laughing as much or giggling as he did yesterday. He explained to Rebecca through the example of fractions being converted into decimals how people as they age get closer to people who are much older than they are. I asked Rebecca what she thought of Brother Edwin. The first word she uttered was, "Cute."
In another blog I mentioned how the compact Brother Edwin lifted one of my classmates with his left hand and pushed him to a wall and told him to be quiet. At long last we found out how this was possible. Brother Edwin's father and uncle excelled in olympic rings. Brother Edwin inherited this ability. He was very athletic. Being made temporarily in charge of a reformatory, Brother Edwin had no problems with discipline. One day he went into the weight room and quietly lifted more weight than anybody there.
They say one cannot go home again. I did. I found home better than ever and Brother Edwin was so much more than I knew. Back then I was too shy or perhaps it was not proper to ask questions about this personal life. Lynne put it best, " He is comfortable in his own skin." Best of all I was not alone in realizing all this. I was able to share it with Howard. It is my hope that Rebecca never forgets this lesson.
Green Angels In Yucatán
Monday, July 16, 2007
It believe that it was in 1979 that I made a trade with Mexicana de Aviación to take pictures in Oaxaca and Yucatán in exchange for airfairs and lodging. I was a bit rough around the edges in knowing how to photograph landscapes or deal with the contrast problems of an extremely sunny Yucatán. Looking at my slides now I realize that they are all Kodachromes.
The high point of my trip was when the Tourism Ministry decided to attach me to a unit of the Angeles Verdes (green angels). They were an incredibly unsophisticated but extremely effective free roadside service that was supposed to aid tourists in distress across the main highways of Mexico.
In actual fact I watched Jorge and Sergio repair cars that never should have been on the road. They were owned by campesinos. The repairs were done with wire and or assisted by a gentle tap in the right place.
Jorge, Sergio and I went to the usual places in Yucatán like Chichén Itzá and Uxmal but they also took me to unknown ruins or henequen haciendas like the one here of Yaxcopoil
that was established in the 17th century.
I have long forgotten where it was that we stayed nights but I do remember that we consumed prodigious ammounts of Coca-Cola. It was the hot and dry season and we just could not get enough liquids to remain in our body.
I remember the adventure fondly. It will be interesting to walk on the footsteps of the ghost of my past with Rosemary and Rebecca. Note that I am in the middle with Green Angels in Chichen-Itzá.
Miss Willmott's Ghost
Sunday, July 15, 2007
I took this photograph of one of our three Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Willmott's Ghost' a few days ago. As we leave in a few minutes on our drive to Seattle to catch our plane to Houston and San Antonio I hope she will protect our garden and house, that Bruce Stewart (Rebecca's father) will not have too much trouble watering the garden, the house plants and feeding Plata and Toby. I am not ready to move into a condominium real soon. But I do understand that all that pre-trip stress would vanish!