My Privileged View
Saturday, September 06, 2008
I have been through this avenue before but not in colour. I have written about Malcolm Parry's privileged view. He maintains that the masses look up and the few, privileged, look down. Everybody looks up at tall buildings. The very few who can, get on the roof and look down. It helps that Mr. Parry is very tall and he is able to shoot down with his camera. He is renowned in how his extra height allows him to capture gossip cleavage like no other in his profession.
I have my own definition of the privileged view which has nothing to do with height. A couple of years ago the Georgia Straight asked me to photograph three rock bands inside Bradley's (a downtown strip joint). Don't ask me why it was that the Straight wanted this. But I took it seriously. Everybody can see a stripper on stage. But few get a glimpse into what happens in the dressing room. I had to go through a few Italian named bikers before I got a green light for the photograph. This was and is indeed a privileged view.
When Helen knocked on the door of my studio, I opened to find her dressed in her mother's kimono. She could barely walk everything was so tightly put on. She then slowly removed layer by layer for my camera. It was slow enough that I was able to do it in colour transparency as seen here, in b+w and in b+w infrared.
These are my privileged view.Helenmore Helenand even more Helen
Friday, September 05, 2008
Note: Blogger limits the size of a picture on its original format. But if you left click on this image it will get bigger and more so if you click again.
Last week Rosemary, girls (Lauren and Rebecca) and I decided to see what the new UBC Canopy walk was like. The folks at the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research
(yes that's its official name) decided that the best kept secret in our city (a world class botanical garden) needed to be better known so that more visitors would turn the turnstiles. That is the goal of the canopy walk. A path up in the trees, all in lightweight aluminum and suspended by the trees and reinforced from the bottom in a way that all the metal allows the trees to grow without restraint, soars and for some who may notice, sway and swing a bit. If you are afraid of heights stay away. If you like excitement don't.
Rosemary felt shaky and Lauren was cautious for a few minutes. But as soon as she got her sky legs she was walking on the narrow pathways (looking down was especially thrilling) full of confidence as some of the rest of us.
But the best feature of this walkway is that it pulls you into the garden and once you are in it your eyes will open to all the wonders there.
Rebecca and I walked (on the ground now) and we touched and felt the leaves of the rhododendrons of the garden (one of the biggest in North America). Most had indumentum a felty undergrowth on the leaves, sometimes white or red or cinnamon coloured. This indumentum reminded us of the soft inside of a cat's ears. And to Rebecca's delight we found rhododendrons that not only had indumentum but tomentum (the indumentum equivalent on the top of the leaves). One in particular amazed us as it felt like stroaking a snake's skin.the Canopy Walkway
Ms. Hernandez, Cordelia & Jan Morris
Thursday, September 04, 2008
In his 1979 book Arabia
, Jonathan Raban
describes how he eventually was able to, "Just be sitting at table among mosquitoes with glasses of Stella beer..." with his fellow travel writer of note, Jan Morris when both happened to be in Cairo. He tells it like this:
As James Morris, she had lived in Cairo on a houseboat in the 1950s. James Morris had been the correspondent in the Middle East for the London Times, and before that he had worked for a news bureau. Jan Morris, commissioned by Rolling Stone Magazine, was revisiting Cairo for the first time since she had changed gender, and she was nervous about what Jan might see in James's city."
Or as Morris herself told Raban, "I'm so frightened of going back to places and finding that I liked them better as I was than I do as I am."
Like most men I have been sexually confused many times. I remember the first time. I was around 7 years old and the day was such a shock to me that I even remember I was in a colectivo (a Buenos Aires bus) on the fashionable then (and now) Avenida Esmeralda. A woman got on with a strange little person. He or she was wearing a dress but he or she had a shaved head. Until then I thought that boys and men had short hair and wore pants (short or long but preferably short) and girls and women wore skirts or dresses and had long hair. I was confused. Was she a boy or was he a girl?
My second moment of sexual confusion happened when I was around 8. It was a Buenos Aires carnaval
and people dressed up and sprayed each other with pomos
which were large toothpaste type tubes made of metal and full of perfumed water. I had gone to see a western with my grandmother on movie theatre row on Avenida Lavalle.
We were in the subte (the Buenos Aires underground) on our way to Retiro train station to take me home. From my vantage point I could see the end of the other subway car and there was a woman's bare back facing me. She had long hair but something was wrong. Her back did not look like a woman's. What could she possibly be? I was confused.
Not long after an American girl came to my house to play and asked me, "Do you want to see it?" I was much too naive to figure out what exactly I was going to see. When I saw it, "it" did not resemble at all what my precocious (so I thought) friend Mario had told me that girls had up front. I was confused again.
In more recent times I have been repelled by the usual macho reaction to seeing two women together. These are usually photographs of gorgeous women with red fingernails and fantastic bodies interacting on divans. It ocurred to me that there are better and more interesting ways of showing these most feminine activities. A film, Bitter Moon
directed by Roman Polanski comes to mind every time I think of this. In this film both Peter Coyote and Hugh Grant (both playing idiots) are left in the lurch in the end by the two women of their life, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner. When these two abandon their men and proceed to dance with each other I was wonderfully shocked.
I had something of the sort in mind when I placed Ms. Hernandez and Cordelia in front of my Ikea mirror.
In one of the many books by Jan Morris that I have read I remember a wonderful sentence that she wrote upon seeing a large portrait of British Lord Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher. I recall that Morris wrote something like, "The man that I was, admired the man that is in front of me and the woman that I am, could possibly have loved the man that he was."
She was never confused. I am sometimes.
María Felix Sleeps In Paris
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
While I have written about the notable Mexican actress Dolores del Río here
I must stress that the most famous Mexican actress of them all was María Felix (April 8, 1914 - April 8, 2002). She is not well known abroad (as in North America) because she never made a film in Hollywood. She lost to Jennifer Jones the part that was allegedly written for her in King Vidor's 1946 film Duel In The Sun
because of prior commitments.
Mexicans and the Spaniards share lots of tradition and history. They also share statements that are rarely contested simply because the rest of the world does not give these two countries any weight. The Spaniards believe that the most perfect and beautiful painting in the world is Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas
. I agree. I saw it at the Prado Museum many years ago with my wife and daughters. We all remember its luminous magic.
With equal passion Mexicans assert that María Felix was the most beautiful woman in the world when she was alive. I would agree, too. She had a throaty voice and in a world of macho men she could make men cower in fear with just the raising of one of her dramatic eyebrows. It was said that she had an affair with the married and powerful Mexican president Miguel Alemán. It was said that not only did she have an affair with Diego Rivera but with his wife, Frida Kahlo, too. I saw many of her films as a boy in the 50s and by the beginning of the 60s there were rumours that "La Dueña" would spend a month in Paris asleep. The French had discovered (so the story went) a method by which after a month's deep sleep, La Felix would wake up rejuvenated with skin like the skin she had had when 20. I believed the story. That somehow this Mexican Helen could be affected by the ravages of time was a possibility we refused to consider.
When Ms Hernandez was lying in my studio's psychiatric couch (I purchased it many years ago from a retiring shrink for $100 which included the delivery to my studio) for this installment of my Mexican nostalgia I thought she was perfect.
Lady Windermere's Fan
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
I prefer women with a past. They're always so demmed amusing to talk to.
Lady Windermere's Fan - Oscar Wilde
In 1959 while living in Mexico City my mother took me to the theatre to see an adaptation into Spanish of Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan.
I remember little except the voice of Dolores del Río who played Lady Windermere. I was electrified by it and by the noise of the opening and closing of her fan with the flip of the wrist. I had never seen her live but had admired her in her films, both Mexican and my favourite of hers in English, John Ford's The Fugitive.
When I posed Ms. Hernandez this morning wearing my grandmother's light green Spanish mantilla and her fan I could almost hear that voice again.
The other haunting image of The Fugitive
is played by that other noted Mexican actor, Pedro Armendariz. He was a handsome man with a beautiful face and voice. As a Police Lieutenant he is in search of our whisky priest, Henry Fonda. In spite of it all Armendáriz was able to distill some humanity into what was supposed to be the role of a fanatical unbeliever.
Those who may be regulars of this blog should not expect soon any attempts on my part to pencil in a moustache on Ms Hernandez to pursue my nostalgia for Pedro Armendáriz.
Dichroa febrifuga & Friends
Monday, September 01, 2008
Today Rosemary almost turned on the furnace. She felt cold. Many of my multipetalled English Roses have buds that probably will not open if the cooler weather persists. But some of my roses surprised me, opening up and perfuming the garden as an almost last gasp before the smell of decaying falling leaves of the season that is upon us takes over. Dichroa febrifuga
is a half-hardy shrub that is related to hydrangeas. We have it in a pot under the cherry tree. We are going to take our chances this year and we are going to plant it in the ground. The blue flowers are followed by metallic blue berries. It is native to Nepal eastwards to southern China and into south-east Asia. The specific epithet febrifuga is in reference to the use of the plant as a febrifuge, acting to reduce fever.
There are two unlikely companions here made so by scanning them together. Rosa
'Ferdinand Pichard' like most roses prefers full sun while Hydrangea macrophylla
'Ayesha' grows best in partial shade. Notice the little florets of the hydrangea that resemble tea saucers. This is the only hydrangea that looks like this.
Not far from the dichroa I have a few smaller hostas. One of my favourites is Hosta kikutti var. leuconata.
. The leaves are narrow and elegant and have startling white undersides. Before the flowers open the scape looks like an exotic bird. This hosta blooms late in the season and its flowers are lovely.
The Remington Portable Model 5
Sunday, August 31, 2008
When my grandmother Lolita was in New York, before she returned to Manila, sometime in the mid 1930s, with my mother Filomena, and brother Tony and sister Dolly she purchased a Remington Portable Model 5
at the American Writing Machine Company. This portable traveled the world and by the time my abuelita arrived in Buenos Aires in 1939 with her children, now adults, in tow she had the machine adapted to the Spanish keyboard with an ¡, ¿, ñ,ü and the accent to the right. Whenever the machine was taken out of the closet by either my grandmother or my mother I knew something serious was afoot. They would type important letters for job applications or to fulfill some Argentine legal or bureaucratic requirement.
In 1958 I failed (the only one) typing in St. Ed's in Austin. I did learn the keyboard well but I could not write quickly without making mistakes. It was only around 1976 that seeing a TV ad in Vancouver I found out I was dyslexic. By 1964 taking notes in college had deteriorated my handwriting to the point that not only my teachers but I could no longer read it. In 2008 I can no longer sign my name and make all the letters legible. I simply had to type to communicate. The Remington became my baby and caused me all sorts of frustration as the floor around me when I typed was full of sheets and sheets of rumpled attempts to typing a whole page without making mistakes.
This frustration lasted until 1990 when I purchased a Smith Corona PWP-40
which was an early version of a portable word processor that did not have the complexity of a computer or any association with that even more complex "thing" called Word Perfect. When I finally broke down and obtained a computer around 1994 I refused to use Word Perfect and posted stories and articles to the Vancouver Sun by writing them in the email program that I used at the time, Eudora. My editor at the time, Nick Rebalski had no problem as at the time there was an incompatibility between the PC based Word Perfect and whatever they used at the Sun.
By 1986 the Remington went back to a closet but I took it out around 1995 and placed it for display on a table in our living room. As some sort of an irony I slipped a handwritten note from the Los Angeles Times Buenos Aires correspondent, James F. Smith into the machine's carriage. I had met Smith in Lima in 1990. We were both there to interview writer Mario Vargas Llosa
who was running for president. Some months later the Times used my portrait and Smith had sent me the thank you note.
When I got my first scanner some 5 years ago I needed a table by my computer (on my desk in the living room). I used the table the Remington was on so my grandmother's machine went back to the closet. I took it out a few weeks ago to photograph Ms. Hernandez as an evangelista
The Remington is back in the closet and I feel sadness. The presence of my grandmother and mother are there when I stare at the keys. The old black fabric covered case smells of age and propels me to remembering the noise I would hear when they would open the case and then type with what then was called a noiseless wonder.
I remember being in Buenos Aires in 1966 and watching with amazement as my secretary Edna Gahan could somehow decipher my handwritten translations and type them with her then state-of-the-art IBM Selectric. It was as much a marvel as was my Schick razor which had one long and contiunuous blade that I would advance to a new section when the previous one grew dull.
Now I would sell my soul to keep Word and that ever so useful tool, word count.