Titus Andronicus & A Catharsis That Passed Me By
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Catharis: Asthetics: The effect of certain kinds of art, esp tragedy and music, in relieving or purging the emotions of an audience
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language The Unabridged Edition
If there were reason for these miseries,
Then into limits could I bind my woes.
Titus from William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, III, Scene 1
Every man has a breaking point.
You can push a guy to the limit...But expect consequences.
Tag lines for Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs
Are we at all meant to sympathize with his endless, play-long sufferings, compared with which Job's are only noisy self-indulgences?
Harold Bloom on Titus Andronicus from his book Shakespeare The Invention of the Human
In 1972 Rosemary and I lived in Mexico City. Every day we drove in bumper to bumper traffic in the city's periférico
or freeway. We worked long hours teaching high school and teaching English in large American companies like Colgate Palmolive, Richardson-Merrill and Westin Hotels. We had a daugther Ale 3 and a few month's old Hilary. We did not know to what extent we were living a life of extreme stress. We found out one Friday night when we went to see Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs
with Susan George and Dustin Hoffman. While we had seen Peckinpah's previous blood bath, The Wild Bunch
we were not ready for the close quarter (in one house) violence of this film. By the end I was cheering inside as Hoffman's character, David Sumner, blasted away one more villain with a shotgun. When we left I remember distinctly telling Rosemary, "This is the perfect film for a Friday night after a terrible week of having to drive agressively (you could not get into the freeway unless you did so) and teaching spoiled and rich American kids." I remember adding, "It gave me the same feeling of peace and relief as when I used to go to Roman Catholic confession."
Last night Rosemary and I went to Bard On the Beach's production (the last perfromance) of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus
. I had read the play many times but I had never seen it performed on stage and I had never seen the film version. I expected an evening of catharsis.
While on the line-up to get in we noticed that a couple of actors were rehearsing a fight scene inside the Titus Andronicus tent. I told Rosemary, "If they have to rehearse this scene on the last night, after months of playing it, there has to be something wrong with this play. I am going to ask the director (Kim Collier, see photograph below) if she is here tonight."
Sitting in the front row with a nice and warm blanket while we munched on chocolate and feasted on the candied (with cheese, too) popcorn sold on the premises we had an enjoyable evening of theatre. Somehow Rosemary survived all the gory scenes, When Julie McIssac's Lavinia spewed out dark and sticky blood from her mouth (her tongue had been cut out by the evil Demetrius, Charles Gallant (photo top left) and Chiron, Kule Rideout), even I felt queasy.
As we were leaving we ran into director Kim Collier so I was able to ask her a couple of questions. "Every fight scene in a play has to be rehearsed every day for safety reasons," Collier told me. When I asked her if directors attend every night she said,"By contract we are obliged only to attend the first performance. Tonight is only my second time. It is different with dance as choreographers are compelled to attend every performance."
As we drove home I tought about catharsis and why Titus Andronicus
a play of revenge as much as The Straw Dogs
was a play of revenge did not affect in me a such a feeling. The actors were excellent, the direction was top notch. The costumes were interesting and some of the dresses that Tamora the Queen of the Goths (Jennifer Lines) wore were beautiful. Her sons, Demetrius and Chiron were a fantastic surprise of costuming every time they appeared on stage. What was it?
In Vancouver we don't have to drive agressively nor worry about being stopped by a thirsty-for-a-bribe Mexican traffic cop. Life is more or less predictable and inflation is mostly in check. Life is good in Vancouver. Rosemary and I don't need a catharsis! I remember my grandmother saying, "Hay que tener la paciencia del santo." One must have the patience of the saint. The saint in question was the biblical Job. Nothing that could possibly happen to us (touch wood) could compare with that santo's and Titus Andronicus's woes.
What is Charlie Gallant holding in his hands? The quote is from Samuel Beckett and it reads: Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better
. This is Gallant's favourite quote and it inspires him to press his limits when he is on the stage. Surely this young actor will be surprising us and thrilling us with performances to come.
Rosemary and I look forward to more of that popcorn when we see Christopher Gaze play King Lear
School, Gelato & A Fencing Lesson With C.C. Humphreys
Friday, September 19, 2008
In my youth I used 35mm film cameras. They were light and somehow the world was at my feet because I owned a couple. With the advent of my largish and heavy Mamiya RB-67 the candid photographs went out the window and I became determined to use good studio lighting or good portable studio lighting. Portability of studio lighting is really at odds and the moment laziness sets in fewer and fewer pictures are taken.
But my friend Grant Simmons from Disc gave me about 30 rolls of Agfa (no longer made) IS0 400 120 film and I have been imagining my ungainly Mamiya as a lightweight and maneuverable 35. I have been taking more pictures. And best of all I have been going against the world trend by processing the film in my darkroom. The smell of fixer while not being the smell of my roses is comforting in the age of the CMOS chip.
Here you see three recent images. In one that's Rebecca and Lauren after school. Lauren is in the first grade and Rebecca is in the 6th (or grade 6 as they say here in Canada). In the second picture the girls are enjoing ice cream at Casa Gelato on Venables. Last week we gloried in being able to enjoy the treats on a hot day that made us forget that summer is really gone.
And in the last picture that's author, actor, fencer C.C. Humphreys
giving Rebecca an "extemporaneus but at my request" fencing lesson to Rebecca. The foils were our garden bamboo sticks.
A Vaguely Remembered Chimera
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I photographed the owners of the Drake Hotel and the Marr Hotel, Jack Cooney and Darcy Taylor in January 1982 for an article that appeared in the March issue of Vancouver Magazine. The piece was called Young, Sexy & Well Heeled
. The writer, and exotic dancer enthusiast Les Wiseman had found a way to hoodwink editor Malcolm Parry into running what definitely was not city magazine material. He had convinced Mac that the piece would be written with a business angle.
Here are Wiseman's first three paragraphs:
Down in Japanese town, you have to watch were you step. As you stand in a corner store at Powell and Dunlevy, waiting to buy a pack of cigarettes, a guy in navy blue ey bags and pinstripe nose will engage you in a one-sided conversation on the hopelessness of trying to get a job if you have been in the "joint" for the past six months. You offer him a couple of smokes, holding the door open as a long-haired fellow about 35 and legless, wheels his way past. Cheryl Ladd, peering up from the glossy cover of TV and Movie Star Parade, smiles cleanly unaware of this side of the tracks.
Across the street, the amateurishly drawn green-and-orange silhouette of a woman beckons you through the Marr hotel's butcher block door. Inside, in the dark, Kiss's thunderous heavy metal music drowns out your depressed maunderings. In the center of the room, swathed in red and blue stage lights, a tall, slim woman with soft brown hair down to her thighs, sways and sashays about the stage. Her face: the fragile cheekbones of a high fashion model. Her expression: serene, with the frail ethereal melancholia that brings lumps to the throats of strong men.
You fumble for a seat, and a heavy pint glass of cold, frothing beer is set in front of you. Fishing a deuce from your pocket and waving the waiter out of your field of vision, you sip through the frosty foam, all thoughts of the ugliness beyond these walls a vaguely remembered chimera. You relax, and bless the day you were born.
At last count, September 18, 2008 the strip bars of Vancouver are all gone except for three The Penthouse, the Number 5 and Brandy's.
Doubt - A Sermon Well Said
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sursum corda (lift up your hearts) from the Catholic Mass.
As soon as the priest would utter the magic words ite, missa est
which in Latin means "go the Mass is over", I was out of the church like a light ready to play with my friends on the street. I knew the ropes and I always managed to arrive late for Mass but I made sure I made it before the Ofertory began. This was considered to be the minimum requirement to satisfying the Catholic dictum of attending Holy Mass every Sunday. I knew all this because I was raised a Catholic. My grandmother said her Holy Rosary at least 10 times per day. And to top it all I was sent to a Catholic boarding high school in Austin, Texas for 4 years.
In my four years there I received the best education of my life. The Brothers of the Holy Cross that taught me, taught me well and from the heart (as Jonathon Young's Father Flynn says in Doubt
, below). I have kept correspondence with my last, remaining and living teacher from that school, Brother Edwin Reggio CSC
to this day.
It was with that skepticism that comes from having been served well by my Catholic church upbringing that I attended tonight the Arts Club Theatre play Doubt
by John Patrick Shanley at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Doubt is a very Catholic play set at the St. Nicholas School and Church in the Bronx in 1964.
My fears were all unfounded. I should have known better. To begin with the play was fronted by two of the best actors in the business, Jonathon Young (Father Flynn) and Gabrielle Rose (Sister Aloysius). The other two actors, Sasa Brown (Sister James) and Michèle Lonsdale Smith (Mrs. Muller) were not in the least intimidated by the virtuso competition and did just fine. I was a bit surprised in the beginning to see the previously voluptuous Sasa Brown (as seen in my photograph here) appear in nun's habits!
The play opened with a sermon from the pulpit in which Jonathon Young's Father Flynn somehow made up for all those masses I almost missed. It felt comforting to be back in church again. He was the perfect priest. I am sure Young would make the perfect serial killer, too.
But then I don't think I know the real Jonathon Young at all. The Jonathon Young that has been in my studio a few times has always shown up in his latest role and has always refused to be anybody else. Here you see him as Trout Stanley from last year's terrific play, Trout Stanley
for Ruby Slippers. I remember asking Young to lean a bit to his right for my photograph and he answered, "Alex, Trout Stanley would only lean to the left, "and he then did just that.
I had never really seen Gabrielle Rose (top, left) in a role (that makes Iago a rank amateur) where I disliked her until tonight. Don't get me wrong, she was superb. She just simply convinced me to dislike her and when all roles are reversed with the "innocent" Sister James of Sasa Brown and she breaks down in tears I felt all kinds of sympathy for her. It was the same with Young's Father Flynn who goes from complete self-control and self-confidence to almost begging on his knees that I knew that this play will be hard to top this year. The ending is subtle and I was left with an almost comforting sense of doubt. Had I been just a bit daring I might have asked the clerically collared gentleman who was sitting in front of me what he thought of it all.
But then I could be wrong (about the play being hard to top) as I will be attending the last performance of Bard on the Beach's Titus Andronicus
directed by Young's wife Kim Collier on Friday. Since all of these fine directors (lncluding Rachel Ditor the director of Doubt whom I once asked exactly what was a dramaturge and she just smiled!) and actors seem to be home grown, it is nice to know that they are all in the family and a fine family it is.
Doubt runs until October 12
A Glass Of Warm Blood & Piazzolla's Milonga Del Angel
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The Execution of the King
- John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
In the above book there is an interesting section of a very famous acquital during the time of the execution of Louis XVI. It is notable that Lord Acton insists in writing it as Lewis
One acquittal is remembered beyond all the rest. In every school and in every nursery of France the story continues to be told how Sombreuil, the governor of the Invalides, was acquitted by the judges, but would have been butchered by the mob outside if his daughter had not drunk to the nation in a glass filled with the warm blood of the last victim. They were taken home in triumph. Sombreuil perished in the Reign of Terror. His daughter married, and died at Avignon in 1823, at the height of the royalist reaction. The fame of that heroic moment in her life filled the land, and her heart was brought to Paris, to be laid in the consecrated ground where she had worshipped as a child, and it rests under the same gilded canopy that covers the remains of Napoleon. Many people believe that this is one of the legends of royalism which should be strung with the mock pearls of history. No contemporary mentions it, and it does not appear before 1801. Mlle. de Sombreuil obtained a pension from the Convention, but this was not included in the statement of her claims. An Englishman, who witnessed the release of Sombreuil, only relates that father and daughter were carried away swooning from the strain of emotion. I would not dwell on so well-worn an anecdote if I believed that it was false. The difficulty of disbelief is that the son of the heroine wrote a letter affirming it, in which he states that his mother was never afterwards able to touch a glass of red wine. The point to bear in mind is that these atrocious criminals rejoiced as much in a man to save as in a man to kill. They were servants of a cause, acting under authority.
As I walked aroung the garden today and looked at which roses were still going strong, Abraham Darby, St Swithun, Mary Rose, chinenis x odorata
, Immortal Juno, Gruss an Aachen, I almost missed a white rose (only one in bloom) by the gate to the back lane. She is a climbing tea rose raised in by M. Robert in France in 1850. She was originally named Mlle. de Sombreuil but the name has been shortened to Sombreuil. She is incredibly white and her profile is almost flat as if someone had shaved off most of her with a very sharp straight razor. I find it amazing that in spite of the blood involved in the origin of her story there is no red anywhere in this pristine and beautiful, sweet smelling rose. I would have never noticed her as she was quiet in her dark corner which is perhaps a reason for her not flowering as freely as some of my other roses.
I cannot explain why but when I was scanning the rose I remembered one of my early heartbreaks. I was 21. Her name was Susy
and I had gone to a party in a Buenos Aires suburb. It was was at an English young man's house by the name of Singer. I had purchased two tickets to also go to see a live performance of Astor Piazzolla at the Teatro Florida in downtown Buenos Aires. When the time came to leave the party I told Susy we had to go. She said, "I am having fun. Why don't we stay?" I replied,(What an idiot I was!), "I am not going to change my plans. I am going with you or without you." And that was that and I left. As I waited for the train it was evening. There is nothing more lonely and depressing than waiting for one when one's heart is broken.
I sat down at the smallish and intimate Teatro Florida. I tried not to notice the empty seat to my right. Piazzolla was powerful and electric. I almost forgot my pain until he began to play this slow and sorrowfully beautiful tango called La Milonga del Angel
. Suddenly I felt a slight pressure on my right hand. And in my right ear I heard her whisper, "I changed my mind. I thought you would miss me."
It was in the quiet way that Susy made me notice her that is perhaps why I connected Sombreuil with her today. Soon after that concert (in the middle of a bitterly cold and gray Buenos Aires winter) Susy left me for a violinist (a much older man) at the Teatro Colón orchestra. I returned to Buenos aires in my late 50s. I rang the bell at her house and when she opened the door she said, "Aren't you going to kiss me?
La vida es un tango.
"Life is a tango," Mexicans like to say.
I received an email from Susy a few years later and then I found out that she had died of cancer.
Pablo De Sarasate's Violin Does Not Dine
Monday, September 15, 2008
My grandmother used to tell me stories about her life in Spain and in the Philippines in the 19th century. One I will never forget is about the virstuoso Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate
and of his grand snub to a Paris salon lady who invited him to dine 'avec votre violon'
. 'Chère Madame,'
he replied, 'je viendrai avec plaisir, mais mon violon ne dîne pas.'
(I'll come with pleasure but my violin does not dine.)
Most of my life as a photographer (I have never told anybody I used to play the alto saxophone) I have been invited to functions and such and I have been asked to bring my camera. In just about every case I have managed to leave my camera home. I hate taking pictures at functions. Some photographers call these "grin and grip". But when paid I have done a few. Most were for Canadian Pacific Limited and I photographed retirements (at the Terminal City Club) of their executives. I hated doing this especially as I found them glorified roasts where the underlings took advantage of making fun of the retiree. I would look at my wife Rosemary with sad eyes, before one of these evenings. She would look back at me and I knew exactly what she was thinking, "We need the money. You go." And I did.
There is one function that I did attend. I suspect that the writer who told me to go, Les Wiseman who at the time (1988) was working for Vancouver Magazine, wanted to look at the pictures I was going to take. Even though there was no chance that the magazine was ever going to run them. It was a fashion show in which the models were all strippers and it was held in Systems which was the hottest night club in town at the time. It was on Richards Street. It is still there under another name. I was given the exclusivity of being able to take pictures in the dressing room. There are quite a few of the best of the exotic dancers of the time here. I have self-censored the pictures so as not to offend any young readers.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
It seems that a few days ago when Rosemary called Hilary as to when we were going to get Rebecca and Lauren, Rosemary heard Rebecca say, "I don't want to go. I want to stay here so I can play with my friends." It was inevitable that after having Rebecca with us every weekend for 10 years this had to happen. It just didn't seem that it would have happened so soon.
My grandmother catered to my tastes in sweets because she liked sweets. She and I both seemed to have a similar taste in films: war pictures, westerns and films with dashing swordsmen. If she didn't she never told me. Going out for an afternoon (and sometimes late evenings) with Abue was always a pleasant adventure. We would go in to see a movie and as soon as it was finished we would walk down Lavalle (in the 50s this Buenos Aires street was a Broadway of movie houses) and slip into another one.
Perhaps Abue only had to compete with my toy soldier collection. There was no TV. There were no computer games. I don't recall one moment when she was ever angry at me. She always singled me out as being artistic because I had inherited the talent from her. I felt special. I loved her. Until she died in the early 70s I had a lively grandson/grandmother relationship. But then she was the only grandparent I ever had.
But with Rebecca (on the other side of the equation as I am the grandparent) I cannot fathom what she might be thinking. She also has all her grandparents nearby in Vancouver.
On Saturday I took her to the garden and lay 8 paper napkins in a row. There was wind so I had to put a pebble on each. I explained to Rebecca that each napkin represented a decade. I showed her where she was and where Rosemary was. I showed her the 32 years that represented the years that Rosemary worked for Mariposa before she (and most of the others ) was summarily let go without compensation as Mariposa cited bankruptcy. I told Rebecca that perhaps the most important meaning in her Aby's (as she calls Rosemary) life was her relationship with her grandchildren and especially her. I asked her if it was too much to sacrifice, pointing out the long row of white napkins in front of her, to spend one day of the week with Rosemary. She didn't reply and I have no idea what she thought of my explanation. I could not tell her that I too, felt like Rosemary and my life would have very little meaning without her.
Today Rosemary, Abraham Rogatnick and I went to a salon at the home of Colin (head of the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver) and Winnie Miles to a preview concert by the Erato Ensemble
. Just at about the end, tenor William George sang Ariel Ramirez's Alfonsina y El Mar
. This Argentine zamba
(similar in some ways to the Brazilian variety but slower, sadder and written with a z) broke my heart with nostalgia. The composer wrote it for the Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa. The Alfonsina of the song was an Argentine poet of note, Alfonsina Storni, 1892-1938) who striken with breast cancer, sent her last poem Voy a dormir
("I'm going to sleep") to the Buenos Aires daily La Nación
. The following day she committed suicide, by walking into the sea at the La Perla beach in Mar del Plata, Argentina
When we got home I searched for the Mercedes Sosa version on the net and cried. It got worse when I listened to Sosa's take on Chilean Violeta Parra's Gracias a la Vida
, Thanks to life. This was the very title I used for a sequence of photographs of Rebecca with her first ballet teacher, Andrea Hodge in 2004.Alfonsina y el Mar