Shelley Berman's Buttermilk & Tom Fox's WagnerSaturday, September 13, 2008
In 1959 one of my more sophisticated roomates, Dan Sherrod at St. Edward's High School in Austin Texas was into European sportscars (his father was the Aston Martin dealer in Midland, Texas), and esoteric stuff that was always in good taste. It was Dan who bought a record by a then almost unknown comedian Shelley Berman. The album was called Inside Shelly Berman.
Nobody should go through life without hearing his views on buttermilk (particularly what a glass of the stuff looks like after you have emptied it). Thanks to Shelley Berman I have never tried this particular lactic product.
Luckily Berman never spoke on yogurt or I would have never tried it. But it was not until I was 21 and in the Argentine Navy that I tried it. My secretary Edna Gahan came in one day with a jar of peach yogurt from a then renowned purveyor of milk products called La Vascongada. She was so obviously relishing it and she noticed that I had noticed. She offered me some but I refused telling her that I would never partake of rotten milk. She smiled and insisted. I have loved yogurt since.
At about that time I would be invited for high tea on weekends to my Uncle Freddy and Aunt Iris's. I never missed these even though I had to share the table with my boring first cousin (about my age) John Hayward. Aunt Iris made the best deviled ham on earth. I could stomach John's comments on his love of opera and in particular Wagner's operas as long as I had that deviled ham on the side.
By 1991 I had found that opera was not only not boring but fantastic. But I drew the line with Wagner. Then the Georgia Straight assigned me to photograph baritone Tom Fox who had come to town to sing Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.
I called up my friend James Delgado (right) who was then the Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum. He told me he had a ship's wheel. I now had to find some sort of sunset backdrop for my concept shot of the Flying Dutchman. I went to Flashpoint and asked owner Berndt if he had such a thing. He looked at me and as if everybody asked for these particular backdrops every day he answered, "Do you want it with cumulus or stratus clouds?" I managed to stick the huge canvas roll in my wife's Audi 5000 (it was a big car) and took it to the Maritime Museum. Tom Fox looked the part and I was charmed.
Doug Tuck, then publicist for Vancouver Opera was so happy with my pictures that he offered to trade some for good tickets. Rosemary and I went with a bit of trepidation. We loved the Flying Dutchman.
Cousin John Hayward died in Toronto a few years after we saw that opera. I had a chance to visit him in Toronto. I found that he was urbane, interesting and certainly not boring. We had a lovely time together. John sent me a letter shortly after telling me how pleased he was that we had finally hit it off. My only regret is that I should have given him and that peach yogurt an earlier try. I would have been a better person for it.
Cousin John should I try buttermilk?