Melody Mercredi - Queen Of The Night
Saturday, March 15, 2008
When my granddaughter Rebecca and I watched soprano Melody Mercredi sing at a recent performance of Bruce Reddell's and Bill Reid's The Spirit of Haida Gwaii
we could not stop looking at her. Her clear voice and her red Dorothy Grant
dress were a striking combination. She wore that dress when I interviewed her and photographed her in my studio in mid- February.
Port Hardy-born Mercredi knew she was going to be singer from the moment she learned to talk. "My mother had a beautiful sweet soprano voice and she played the organ at our church. I sang in the kids'choirs. But it wasn't until I was 14 when I watched Tom Hanks in Philadelphia
that I knew I wanted to be an opera singer. I heard Maria Callas sing "La Mamma Morta"
from Umberto Giordano's opera Andrea Chenier
. It totally moved me. I had to sing like that someday."
Mercredi pursued her musical studies in Capilano College, UBC and the Vancouver Academy of Music. She has been the lead in the touring company of the Vancouver Opera's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute
. "I sing Queen of the Night, the Second Lady and Papagena with the Vancouver Opera In School Program. I have entertained kids while being in those three different characters in schools all over BC including Haida Gwaii and the reserve at New Aiyansh."
In her ambition to one day sing Juliette in Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette
Mercredi excecised all options. She will be in the chorus of the Vancouver Opera's forthcoming production of Beethoven's Fidelio
(opens March 22 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre). "I admire the principal singers, specially Richard Margison
and Robyn Drideger-Klassen whith whom I went to school. For me to be on stage for any role is fullfilling. I love to be in costume. I can be someone else for two hours."
Mercredi's favourite food is cheese. "I am thin not only because of my family genes but because I run. I need to keep extending those long singing breaths in many of those arias. You have to be fit and have stamina to be an opera singer." At first her friends could not believe she was an opera singer. "They thougth I had to be large like Brünhilde to sing opera!"
No More Tomatoes Or iPods For Aurelio Zen
Friday, March 14, 2008
It doesn't seem all that long since I remember entering Duthie's on Robson and Celia Duthie asked me, "Have you read any Michael Dibdin? You should, you know." From there I would go to the Granville Book Company where someone was bound to ask, "Alex, have you read Dibdin?" I finally did and I even met and interviewed the author a few times.
I have read 6 (of 8) of Dibdin's "stand alone" novels and all 12 of his Aurelio Zen mysteries. The last one, End Games - The Last Aurelio Zen Mystery
I read last night with a somehow special approach. How does one read a novel in which the author
has recently died (1997) and where his main character, the sad Aurelio Zen has always been the author himself for me? I read it with a deep melancholy. I read it (slowly) as if I were sipping the last of a bottle of precious manzanilla from San Lucar de Barrameda. Certainly while I liked Dibdin and Zen I never did agree with their preference for grappa.
But what struck me the most and saddened me about End Games
is a sense that Aurelio Zen almost feels a stranger in a world. With technology, an all prevailing event, from his vantage point in a small town in Calabria where he is temporarily replacing the police chief who shot himself in the foot Zen seems tired of it all. Not that the tiredness would ever prevent him from solving a complex crime where nobody can be pursuaded to talk.
After a pleasant sleep in a train to Rome Zen faces:It was only when he was ejected from this sanctuary in the commuter rush hour at Rome that he realized to what extent he had become a provincial after just a few months in Calabria. He found it both physically difficult and emotionally repugnant to battle his way through the riptide of people coming at him from every direction, empty eyes trained like a gun on the personal zone immediately in front of them, attention absorbed by the loud songs or little voices in their heads, fingers fiddling with iPods and mobile phones, all oblivious of each other and their surroundings, marching relentlessly onwards like the ranks of the damned.
Then Zen says this of faxes:I remember when we first got fax machines at work, Zen thought. They were cutting edge then, a status marker. If you didn't have one, you weren't important. Now they were virtually obsolete and sat gathering dust in some unvisited corner of the building. I've witnessed the birth and decay of an entire technology, he thought, not just in my lifetime but within recent memory.
I have a writer friend who says that thanks to the internet he can do all his reasearch from home. He has special (and expensive) permits to access such publications (from the 1880s) as the Globe & Mail
and The New Yorker
. He told me he no longer has to visit libraries. That contrasts with my knowledge that for many years Jonathan Raban
and Michael Dibdin (both expatriots from the United Kingdom but Seattle residents) would meet to compare notes on what it was like to live in the foreign country of the United States. Both authors have a special talent for injecting authentic sounding conversation (the lingo, Raban would say) into the dialogue of their books. Their books are full of live content that comes from listening to people in real cafes, in the street and yes, perhaps even in libraries.
Two characters in End Games
meet at a restaurant:
Jake and Martin met at SooChic, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion place with accents on the Deep South. The furnishings were 1950s Scandanavian, easy on the eye but hard on the ass. A waitperson showed up and dispensed some intense culinary talk therapy.
"So?" said Jake.
I will never know exactly how well Dibdin adjusted to living in the 21st century but I find it appropriate (even if it is a loss to Aurelio Zen fans) that Zen has moved on to some heaven-in-the-sky for novel characters where he will live in comfortable silence, with the smell of the sea that one only gets while living in Venice and that he will never again have to be subjected to pasta with that New World monstrosity, the tomato.
Candy Corn - A Mirror & My Gold Care Card
Thursday, March 13, 2008
A couple of days ago I found myself 75 cents short of $2.50 for the bus. I was returning home from shooting in my Robson Street studio. I got on the Granville trolley and put in $1.75 which is the rate for those 65 or over. I was 65 last August but a birth certificate mess up in Argentina has me officially almost a year younger. The driver did not even look at me and I picked up my transfer.
It all had to do with wanting more candy corn. I was 6 or 7 and my mother had a big bag of candy corn that she had obtained from a friend from the American Embassy in Buenos Aires. She would hand me a few that I would greedily eat in one blow. I noticed that she put the bag away in a drawer of her armoire in her bedroom of our house in Coghlan. One day when my mother was not around I went into the bedroom and opened the armoire and helped myself to the whole bag. The armoire had a mirror and I suddenly noticed myself in it. I stopped to look at myself and I think that for the first time I realized that I was an individual. I remember thinking , "Soy yo." (I'm me.) When my mother found out I received a sound spanking.
Now the time elapsed between seeing myself in that mirror with candy corn in my mouth and the arrival yesterday of my gold Care Card seems to be as fast as the flutter of a butterly wing and as compressed as a butterfly's existence. Can that be possible?
When we arrived in Vancouver within months I had lost my Social Insurance card. I have never bothered to get another one. The few times anybody has requested my SIN, I always ask them to wait. I tell that I have to find one of my cameras. In the late 70s many of us in Burnaby engraved our SIN number on our valuables. I engraved it on to my cameras. Here you can see the number (three digits have been Photoshopped out) on the bottom of my Pentax S3 as well as on the Takumar 55mm F-2 lens. For years I have used a torn Care Card that I repaired with transparent tape. It seemed like these cards weren't all that useful and could not even be used as an ID as they had no picture on them.
The impact of that Gold Card yesterday was very much like the one of the candy corn and the mirror. For a while I have equated my life with that of a slipping clutch
. The Gold Card has made it that much more obvious. But there is one difference and that is the whole image of the senior that retires to golf or who might winter in Florida. Or the repellant image that I used to have of taking pictures of Canadian Pacific Limited executives who were given retirement roasts at the Terminal City Club. The roasts used to depress me to no end and only the frown in Rosemary's face (a frown that said, "We need the money. You need to take those pictures.") made me stick to the job. Powerful executives on one day were given on the next rocking chairs, gold watches, fishing rods and golf clubs. They were told to have a long and happy retirement. I never quite understood what that meant.
To me the Gold Card means that I must perhaps be more careful about falling. As a freelancer I cannot afford to be out of action for long. The Gold Card means I will be able to go to my beloved Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Early Music Vancouver concerts and pay a bit less for the pleasure.
But perhaps the most comforting aspect of my Gold Card is the sudden awareness that this is the last and only card I will ever need.
Nini Baird's Baby & The Densification of Vancouver Through The Population Depletion Of BC's Interior
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Next Friday Rosemary, Lauren, Rebecca and I will visit our daughter Ale in Lillooet. We will have to make the decision, the day before, as to which of the least dangerous highways we will travel to get there. The road between Pemberton and Lillooet is nicely banked but it is one continuous curve that is most dangerous in snow and ice. Plus we have to brave the nuts that will be driving to Whistler. The other option, the road between Lillooet and Lytton via Hope is very narrow, full of holes and huge rocks that come rumbling down from the side of the mountain. Often it is closed and then there is no way to get to Lillooet except by going back in some other way.
If you live in Lillooet and you don't own a car you cannot leave town unless you know someone else who is leaving in a car. There are no buses and there is no train. Lillooet has a very beautiful train station.
Sometime in the late 70s, Malcolm Parry, the editor of Vancouver Magazine dispatched me to photograph people he called movers and shakers of culture. One of them was a woman with an addictive smile who very definitely seemed to think we lived in the best of all possible worlds. I photographed her. She gave me a card and said, "How would you like to work for me?" I didn't answer her and promptly put the card in my wallet. In the beginning of the 80s my photographic fortune had its ups and downs, but mostly downs and I searched for Nini Baird's card.
For close to 13 years I worked ( on weekends, three or four times a year) as an artist teacher for Nini Baird's baby, The Outreach Program of Emily Carr College of Art
as the institute was known then. Baird had explained to me that a portion of the provincial tax that every tax payer in British Columbia paid was a culture tax. Baird's mandate was to bring culture to those who lived in the interior who were definitely short-changed by the tax. Artist teachers went to remote areas to teach printmaking, painting, sculpture, photography and many more art techniques. The school even had a huge trailer truck that was a "portable" printmaking studio. I went to places like Cassiar
, Uclulet, Atlin and all the forts. My students would invite me for dinner in order to squeeze me of more information. They were passionate and perhaps the most eager students I ever had in my life.
When Baird moved to other activities (including shaking up the Knowledge Network and pushing it forward) her Outreach baby died. Baird has worked behind the scenes promoting culture since. She may be one of the only American born women with an Order of Canada
Every time I drive to Lillooet I think of the remoteness of the place and its dependance on TV and the internet. What do high school graduates do? To they stay? For what? Where do they go?
I had a well known ex BC politician in my studio last week and I asked him how it seemed that we were in a process of densification of our cities by simply ignoring the future of the interior communities. He said, "Towns have come and gone and this will always be a pattern." "There is not way of getting there unless you own a car." He countered this with, "Tour buses can get there."
As I think that those in the interior are still paying that culture tax and getting nothing (except for the accasional tour of the Vancouver Opera touring company or the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) I feel a certain rage and I would almost want to rant here. This I will not do. But I would suggest that we need to get Nini Baird back to see the we all get our culture, plenty of it and with her smile. And we need more women like her and the Celia Duthies, and the Carole Taylors, to help us bring those interior communities back to the fold but not through this forced densification of Vancouver. We need to give the people of those communities a reason for staying.
Plenty Of Nothing
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
It is sometimes very difficult to be a Canadian. Four years ago I went to Buenos Aires with Rosemary and Rebecca and I was shocked to see large displays of women in small bikinis advertising tooth paste, soup, and housing developments. After years of indoctrination in Vancouver I could not understand the relevance of the female body to toothpaste. I tried to explain my concern to my cousins who simply laughed at me and said I was a fool. I further got into trouble by telling them that I was no longer turned on by women wearing highheels. In fact I felt sorry for them because of the possible pain and how it affects their posture and back. My cousin Georgito made the comment that perhaps Canada must be a boring place to live, after all, looking at an attractive woman selling toothpaste was a pleasant endeavour.
Georgito would very much approve of the subject of today's blog. It is cleavage. It is about Jo Drake's cleavage. She has great cleavage. But Georgito would have a problem as there is no real word for cleavage in Spanish. This is simply an elegant omission of the language in accepting that in actual fact we men adore something that does not exist. The word escote
in Spanish means cut. A vestido escotado
is a low cut dress. Sin escote
suggests that a dress or sweater is al the way up to the neck. Sometimes an escote lindo
refers to an attractive show of upper breast by a low cut dress. But we don't have an exact word for cleavage. Hendidura
can mean the scoop or depression of space between something higher. Hendidura could mean cleavage but it is rarely used. My on line dictionary of the Spanish language the RAE
(Real Academia Española) states:
1. f. Corte en una superficie o en un cuerpo sólido cuando no llega a dividirlo del todo.
A cut in a surface or in a solid body when it (the cut) is not entirely divided.
That seems to be a rather prosaic definition for something we all get so excited about!
The Gangster's Moll - The Mona Lisa - The Virgin Mary
Monday, March 10, 2008
I have known Maddalena
for 34 years. I have not seen her since she moved to Milan about 12 years ago. But we keep in touch via email. With my recent blogs on voluptuous Latin women and how I have almost been jealous when I read Edward Weston's Day Diary I have been thinking a lot about the Montreal born, Italian heritage Maddalena. I went into her files and found a treasure of photographs, some of which I can show here without offending potential youth who might accidentally discover this blog.
Maddalena first faced my camera in the late 70s when I was shooting photographs for Ron Langen's gay publication Bi-Line
. Langen had the idea that I take two handsome young men and Maddalena to a forrest in Surrey in late November and photograph them nude as a trio in paradise before the fall of Adam.
The story was about two Adams and one snake, Maddalena. My subjects kept warm with a bottle of brandy and the pictures were a success. The photograph of Maddalena from the rear is one of the pictures (but cropped!).
For the next shoot we added one more woman, my friend Inga Vollmer
and shot it inside an old railway parlour car that I got from my friend Harry Atterton. He was a PR man for Air Canada who happened to own a few railway cars on the side.
Through the years I photographed Maddalena lots. I would run into her at alternative band concerts at the Commodore and we would set dates to take pictures. With her and with the Reid sisters Virve
I learned all I know now about the photography of the undraped female.
Unfortunately Maddalena left for Toronto about 16 or 17 years ago and the photography stopped. One year she came back and insisted I photograph the new hard bodied Maddalena wearing black lace gloves, etc. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea but I obliged. Maddalena never saw the results (the last three here are from that session) but with the ease of use that comes with a home scanner I am sure that today she will be looking at them from Milan.
Looking at her pictures I can see that I could have done a series on Mary Magdalene. I could have photographed a contemporary Mona Lisa. And there is more.
My friend Jim Christy
has always been interested in Catholic saints. He has an extensive collection of images and statues. One of his favourites is one of the Holy Family in which Saint Joseph uncharacteristically places his hand on the Virgin Mary's shoulder.
Until recently the idea that Joseph would touch Mary was strictly verboten
. In the last few years I have taken a few ethnic Virgin Mary's (fully undraped). I have a Vietnamese, a Chilean and an Argentine Mary. But Maddalena's interpretation of the Virgin Mary would make Mary a real woman. A real woman which I have no doubt Mary was.
Addendum March 10, 2008
Dear Alex, you did get a smile out of me. Quite amusing the association to Monalisa, the Virgin Mary and the not so virgin Mary Magdalen.
A series on Mary Magdalen or Monalisa would have been right up my ally.
I have only been in Milan for 7 years, although it feels like a lifetime, but I imagine it's at least 12 years since we last ran into each other in Toronto.
Been a while since i stood in front of a camera except for some self portraits along the way. I have attached a couple of self portraits I took 2 years ago. A contemporary interpretation of Mary Magdalen..... and a penitent Mary Magdalen.
Thank you Alex.
Last night I received a communication from A.K. Dewdney
re my recent blog on a lecture I gave at the 2008 Northern Voice
Conference at UBC. A.K. Dewdney writes:Dear Alex,
You certainly have a point, but consider the plight of our Planiversal friends who find great (?) aesthetic fascination in one-dimensional images like this one:
....---.-..-..-----.- -..- -.- -...- -... .
the Mona Pizza (with apologies to Mr. Morse))
I don't think I have anything to add to your blog, except to say that the continual viewing of images on glowing screens has a debilitating effect on the brain, rendering it by degrees increasingly passive and decreasingly alert. The final stage is a form of benign idiocy.
All the best
ps: The Dewdney Trail in BC commemorates Edgar Dewdney, one of the first governors-general of BC, I believe. My grandfather happened to take the same steamer to England with E. Dewdney back in the 20s. They could not find a common ancestor.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I photographed Kathleen Bartels, the Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was a pleasant occasion and it all led me to think that I should renew my lapsed family membership to the gallery. This I did.
Yesterday Rebecca, Lauren, Rosemary and I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. We only saw Truth Beauty - Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art, 1845-1945
because short and sweet visits to art galleries do not ruin a child's perception that a gallery
can be fun. And fun it was. Rebecca was interested in many more of the photographs that I thought she would be.
Her favourite (one of mine ) was The Heart of the Storm, 1902
by American photographer Anne Brigman (right). Rebecca laughed and tried to stand on her head to look at Paul Lewis Anderson's Woman Boarding Double-Decker Bus, 1909
when I told her that Anderson's formula for a good photograph was its ability was to hold it upside down to see if the composition remained strong.
Lauren (5) was getting a bit ansy but I was able to show Rebecca Frederick H. Evans's F. Holland Day in Algerian Costume
, 1901. F. Holland Day had just returned from a trip to Northern Africa. With friend and photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn they dressed up in Algerian clothes and rang Evan's doorbell. The housekeeper almost fainted but a unperturbed Evans invited the men in and took their portraits.
We finished our VAG visit with Rebecca's favourite chocolate brownie at the VAG's coffee shop. While there I waved at travel writer John Masters who makes the coffee shop his office when he is in Vancouver. I thought of all the ghosts that haunt the gallery for me. The Vancouver Art Gallery has litle content on the history or mantions any of the former gallery directors. I photographed all of them with the exception of Willard Holmes. I particularly enjoyed the affable J. Brooks Joyner
and I remember the very silent and cold Luke Rombout whom I photographed in the late 70s at the 1145 West Georgia location of the VAG.
I don't rant in this blog but I do have a minor beef. The situation reminds me of the jealous pharaohs of Ancient Egypt who would rub out the cartouches of their predecessors and would thus have never ever existed. To find the correct spelling of Rombout I had to call former VAG director Abraham Rogatnick. To remember the first name (and the last, too) of former director Alf Bogusky (in the photograph with Michael Audain and curator Daina Augaitis) I had to call Malcolm Parry.
Only the Wikipedia entry for the VAG explained that the gallery building had been built by English architect Francis Rattenbury or that my picture of Arthur Erickson at the formal opening of the gallery had been taken in 1983. The VAG's excellent website
will be even better when they add a history.
With Lauren a bit bored we walked to the Vancouver Public Library where we all had a pleasant time in the children's library. Rebecca insisted in bringing Howie Mandel (the narrator) Where Did I Come From?
video which she watched with Rosemary and Lauren. I found it a bit on the shocking side particularly when the handsome (and married) couple stand up in the bathtub to reveal perfectly sharp (but as cartoons) and perfectly manicured (Brazilian wax jobs) pudenda. It was only later when Hilary (Rebecca and Lauren's mother) found out at the dinner table that Rebecca had allowed Lauren to watch that all hell broke loose. Rosemary's assertion that it had all gone over Lauren's head prevented our evening from being spoiled (Rebecca was not grounded) as we watched the other library video, the perfectly charming Handel's Last Chance
where a little Irish beggar/thief boy saves and makes the Messiah a resounding success. Ojos Que No Ven, Corazón Que No Siente