Quartet For The End Of Time
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I give bird songs to those who dwell in cities and have never heard them, make rhythms for those who know only military marches or jazz, and paint colors for those who see none.
No one should be allowed to make music as if he were made of wood. One must reproduce the musical text exactly, but not play like a stone.
Music is a language that can reach the secret parts of existence. It is an abstract language which addresses the subconscious more than the conscious.
Yesterday afternoon I listened to the rehearsal of a work by French composer Olivier Messiaen whose title is the most beautiful sounding Quartet for the End of Time
. It is part of a program by the Turning Point Ensemble
in a concert that was held yesterday (Friday) and again tomorrow (Sunday) at 8pm at Ryerson United Church, 2195 W. 45 Avenue. Messiaen’s quartet will be played by cellist Peggy Lee
, pianist Jane Hayes, clarinetist François Houle and violinist Marc Destrubé
(same order in photograph here).
I plan to attend the concert for several reasons.
In 1964 I was a 22-year-old young man who thought he had avant-garde tastes. This meant I went to little Mexican baroque churches to listen to music that had been “discovered” at the time. This was baroque music by such composers as Frescobaldi, Torelli, Vivaldi
. I looked down on my mother’s fondness for "the musical genius of all time" (as she called Bach
) because his name did not end in i
! My idiocy accompanied me to a concert at the University of Mexico where my friend Robert Hijar told me we would have the pleasure of listening to works by composer Olivier Messiaen. I listened to a soprano squawk accompanied by music I could hardly hum and I told Robert I hated it. And that was the last time I exposed myself (knowingly) to Messiaen until last night. After the rehearsal sample I am curious and hooked, too.
A little treasure in my library is A Guide to Orchestral Music - The Handbook for Non-Musicians
by Ethan Mordden (Oxford University Press 1980). Before going over to Ryerson to snap the picture of the quartet yesterday I read:Birds are a major inspiration to Messiaen; his attempts to recreate and even analyze their music in his compositions form his most identifying feature. “For me,” says Messiaen, “birds are the greatest of artists.” He has traveled the world noting their cries, he taking down their dictation on music paper, his wife (the pianist Yvonne Loriod) capturing the sound on tape.
When I listened to the third movement (8 in all) Abyss of the birds
(I had no program) François Houle’s clarinet was a bird, several birds. It was beautiful. Of this movement Messiaen himself writes:Clarinet alone. The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light, for stars for rainbows, and for jubilant songs.
Of the work, Quartet for the End Of Time
, Turning Point Ensemble Conductor (and composer) Owen Underhill (seen here with dancer/choreographer Lauri Stallings) writes:In 1940, Olivier Messiaen was interned in a German prison camp, where he discovered among his fellow prisoners a clarinetist, a violinist and a cellist. The success of a short trio which he wrote for them led him to add seven more movements to this Interlude, and a piano to the ensemble, to create the Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen and his friends first performed it for their 5000 fellow prisoners on January 15, 1941.
According to the composer, the Quartet was intended not to be a commentary on the Apocalypse, nor to refer to his own captivity, but to be a kind of musical extension of the Biblical account, and of the concept of the end of Time as the end of past and future and the beginning of eternity. New Yorker critic Alex Ross has described this iconic work as "the most ethereally beautiful music of the twentieth century."
Of the rest of the program Underhill notes:Paired with the Messiaen are three dynamic and colourful large ensemble pieces by one of Canada's most skillful and internationally respected composers, Vancouver born, Alexina Louie. “Louie’s music is a wondering pairing to the music of Messiaen, and the performance of these three significant large scale works is a substantial and overdue representation of the work for Vancouver audiences,” The works include the BC premiere of Imaginary Opera, Louie's Winter Music, a chamber concerto for viola and eleven performers commissioned by the Vancouver New Music Society and nominated for a Juno award for Best Classical Composition in 1998, featuring solo violist David Harding and her work, Ricochet featuring Turning Point Ensemble Co-Artistic Director and trombonist Jeremy Berkman.
If all the above is not enough to lure you to Sunday's concert let me add two more features that make me curious. While I was listening to the rehearsal I spotted percussionist Vern Griffiths (left) getting his instruments ready. I would describe what I saw to be a wall of sound instruments almost as wide as the church. I wanted to ask him what kind of vehicle or vehicles he needed to transport all the gongs, drums, bells, xylophones, etc that I saw.
And when was the last time you heard a piece for solo trombone?
The ever versatile cellist Peggy Lee has a short but glowing report on her new CD in the Sunday, November 30, NY Times:The Canadian cellist, not the American singer, Peggy Lee has an eight-piece band that sounds like jazz, and then rock, and then a kind of chamber-music pastoralia, always flowing organically from one thing to the next. It’s made by collective improvisation, with lots of friction and jostle among the guitars and saxophones and brass and drums, but the Peggy Lee Band’s latest album, “New Code” (Drip Audio), isn’t aggressive; it’s full of pop melodies (including Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do,” Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars” and plenty of Ms. Lee’s own), pretty drones and subtle shifts of arrangement brought on by Ms. Lee’s cues.
The Drowsy Chaperone - A Good Thing In Bad Times
Friday, November 28, 2008
Sometime in the mid 80s during an economic recession, Vancouver Magazine
editor, Malcolm Parry
decided to run a "service piece" (a thinly disguised editorial that wasn't) called Good Things In Bad Times
. I was dispatched to photograph $15.00 (the price then) Cuban Montecristo cigars, an economically-priced but very good Spanish Rioja wine and a few other things.
Watching the Playhouse Theatre Company's first play of their season, Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison, Bob Martin and Don McKellar's The Drowsy Chaperone
, directed by Max Reimer, and seeing my usually somber wife smile, I understood Malcolm Parry's idea about good things in bad times. In fact The Drowsy Chaperone
is a very good thing for very bad times.
A few months back my wife and I enjoyed the Arts Club Theatre musical The Producers
which coincidentally (with a purpose, perhaps?) also had Jay Brazeau in the cast. My friend author and Georgia Straight movie critic John Lekich
pointed out that producing such a musical with a large cast and very good dancers and singers was no easy task in these times. He told me, "Whe should lap up such stuff when it happens as it doesn't very often."
Before I throw unabashed praise on The Drowsy Chaperone
let me point out my pet peeves. As a Latin American born in Buenos Aires I have understood theatre, film and opera but I have never comprehended the concept of musicals where people, out of the blue, suddenly begin to sing or to dance. A cultured Mexican friend of mine is unable to handle exotic dishes that feature sweet and sour or sweet and salty. He likes to have his stuff separate. Perhaps my 35 residence in Vancouver has softened my stance on musicals so that I can enjoy them. My other pet peeve is more difficult to reconcile. I absolutely hate tap dancing and there is lots of tap dancing in the The Drowsy Chaperone
With that all cleared up I must assert that when tap dancers Laird Mackintosh (Robert, the groom) and Ryan Reid (George, the best man) did their stuff it was done well. But it was tap dancing. Then David Marr (Underling, the butler/servant) appeared on the scene. This usually extremely serious Vancouver actor ( His Greatness)
did his little tap sequence between the other two. I laughed. Tap dancing must have its moments!
While I am 66 I am still an admirer of not only talent (she's got it) but of beauty and especially legs. Debbie Timuss (Janet) has legs that somehow are even more luscious by whatever stockings costume designer Phillip Clarkson made her wear. Timuss's dresses (Clarkson again!) are all designed to show off those legs and a white teddy later in the show made me feel 20 again.
Legs don't stop with Timuss. They keep on going with Nathalie Marrable (Kitty). She is forced to speak and sing with a ditzy voice so I spent more time looking at her legs. My distraction with legs was compounded when the gangsters (disguised as pastry chefs) Neil Minor and Shawn Macdonald, in photo above left, appeared. My, what legs!
I spotted Dal Richards
in the audience who must have felt the same way as I did in enjoying the big band sound of the small group of musicians (Nick Apivor, Derry Byrne, Thomas Colclough, Rod Murray and Lloyd Nicholso, the musical director). How often do you get to hear a trombone
As I watched the versatile and extremely funny Jay Brazeau play Man In Chair (sort of like a physical narrator who steps in, here and there, to tell you what is going on in his mind as the shenanigans on stage are what he sees with his imagination as he plays the records of this fictitious show set in the roaring 20s) I kept thinking of an older and chubbier Mike Harcourt
with a tad more hair. Apparently this was no accidental connection on my part. My friend Abraham Rogatnick (who played the rabbi with Brazeau in the Playhouse's production of Fiddler on the Roof
) told me today that Brazeau often imitated Harcourt when Harcourt was our mayor. As I watched Brazeau's jovial performance I suddenly remembered that he had played a mortician in Lynne Stopkewich's 1996 film, Kissed. Now that's range.
If this wonderful play had been a dud I would still have liked it simply because it champions the use of one of he most beautiful and evocative words of the English language that has all but disappeared in our politically correct times. And that is aviatrix. The Drowsy Chaperone
features an almost full scale WWI biplane (Take that, Miss Saigon!) and Trix (a black and very independent aviatrix played by Tshol Khalema).The play ends in a scene right out of one of my favourite films, the 1933 Flying Down To Rio
with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Dolores del Río.
And if that is not enough there is Gabrielle Jones playing an always tipsy (is it iced water, is it vodka?) drowsy chaperone. Her "spraying" scene with the very funny (how was I to know of this hidden talent of his?) David Marr rivals the blind roller skating scene but I won't go into that one. Nor will I venture to reveal the identity of the most talented building manager in the business who has a key role in this production.
The Drowsy Chaperone
runs until December 27.
It's A Wonderful Life - A Vancouver Tradition
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Last night I attended the Arts Club Theatre production of It's A Wonderful Life
directed gleefully by Dean Paul Gibson, left. I wrote about this last year here
. Seeing it for a second time did not diminish my enjoyment as I saw it not with my wife Rosemary but with my daughter Hilary (Rebecca and Lauren's mother). Hilary sees very little theatre because I take Rebecca to as many theatre performanes as I can. Hilary's first comment at the intermission was, "This is not at all like the high school productions I used to attend as a teenager! This is professional." But what really made the play such a pleasure for Hilary has to be what I think is really a Vancouver tradition in the performing arts. Let me explain.
Many years ago when Hilary's older sister Ale was around 12 I took her to an Andrés Segovia guitar recital at the Orpheum. At the time Ale was taking guitar lessons at the Vancouver School of Music. A very taciturn Segovia walked into the stage and sat down without any explanation. He silently left after his virtuoso performance. I told Ale, "Go to that side door and wait. Knock and somebody will let you in. Perhaps Segovia will autograph your program." Ale did just that and I saw her disappear behind the side door. When she came back, with a big smile on her face, she told me, "Andrés (he asked me to call him that), picked me up and gave me a hug. Since I spoke in Spanish to him he told me in his Castilian, Alejandra, I did not say anything during the performance because I lost my voice in the airplane from Spain."
Ale has not forgotten Segovia's warm welcome and warm (if diminished) voice.
Since then I have managed to go back stage (without much problem) at theatre performances, the ballet, modern dance, the Vancouver Symphony
, the Vancouver Opera
, musical performances at the UBC School of Music, the Chan
, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre
. One of the many highlights has been able to go back stage at Ballet BC rehearsals
and watch the action from there. During rehearsals of the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra its former director Juan Castelao
used to allow Rebecca and I to sit a meer three or four ft behind him. And of course after performances of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra
or of famous luminaries of the baroque world in Early Music Vancouver concerts I have mingled and shared thoughts with, the likes of Monica Huggett and Andrew Manze both violinists that can only be compared with our very own Marc Destrubé
But the best of all was my being multiply kissed in the cheek by cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich
backstage at the Orpheum after a VSO
It is this Vancouver tradition of opening rapport between performers and the audience and making it so accessible that amazed my daughter Hilary last night at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage. We talked to the actors and had a warm chat with director Dean Paul Gibson (above, left) . Hilary wanted to congratulate actor Bernard Cuffling who played the not quite winged Clarence the angel. I took my opportunity to tell him that I missed his motorcycle. He winked at me as he understood my reference to his wonderful performance in the recent Arts Club Theatre production of The History Boys
You learn quickly and for the better that Ballet BC
dancers, modern dancers, musicians, conductors, directors are not gods. You learn that they put their pants on one leg at a time and that they sometimes have to eat Kraft Dinners like we sometimes do. But you also learn and admire their passion, skill and determination to avoid and transcend the mediocrity that is taking over our lives. You learn that while there is not much interdisciplinary cooperation in Vancouver amongst the performance organizations there is a sense that every once in a while one has to circle the wagons and save the troops. Bill Millerd in his usual little warm talk before last night's It's A Wonderful Life
said, "Let's all go out there and buy tickets to the Nutcracker. Let's save Ballet BC." Yes!It's a Wonderful Life
runs until January 2, 2009
My Debt To Ballet BC - An Apologist's View
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Subject: Tragic - Ballet BC terminated
We have our work cut out for us. The cancellation of the CBC Radio Orchestra, huge cuts within the CBC with more potential layoffs announced today and now this. In my opinion, Ballet BC is the best arts organization in Vancouver and we need to save it. It's cutting edge artistic and run by the brilliant, creative and innovative mind of John Alleyne. We are so lucky to have them in our city and to have them represent Canada abroad. Please encourage people to go to the Nutcracker - if there are enough seat sales, we can save this jewel and hopefully save an important part of culture in our city.
Thank you all,
I received the above this morning. My friend Richard Dal Monte and editor at Tri-Ciy-News had sent me the Vancouver Sun article
yesterday morning so I was already in a bit of a shock. I thought about it all night and slept badly. The above letter from artist Tiko Kerr
made me think on my relationship with Ballet BC which began sometime around 1995 when I started shooting dance pictures for the Georgia Straight. Here (above) is one of my earliest ones with Ballet BC Director John Alleyne and dancer Gail Skrela.
It all began with an infatuation (love perhaps?) of watching Evelyn Hart dance, meet her and take her photographs. Evelyn Hart was my introduction into the wonders of ballet. From there I had to see more ballet so Ballet BC became my ticket. I became such a fan that I would notice when dancers would lose or gain weight or when they got new hair cuts. I could not understand why more people did not try to secure access to back stage or rehearsals. I felt many years younger because I became a groupie. I watched my swans prepare back stage. Many wore fluffy rabbit bedroom slippers to keep their feet warm!
But there was another awakening in myself that was all due to my experiences with Ballet BC. Going to some of the premiere performances I would note groups of men usually dressed in black (with some wearing leather pants). They were evidently gay and were there to enjoy the beautiful male dancers. I felt a bit on the dirty side as I was there to admire the beautiful female dancers. It was at about this time that I wrote a piece for the Vancouver Sun and for the CBC Arts Web Page about the sexual
aspect of ballet and dance. I felt that as a man I should be able to proudly assert that I especially liked ballet and dance because the women were beautiful and graceful. Why was it that only the men who liked the boys could get away with it?
I soon found out what those men were enjoying because I too began to feel within me the excitement of seeing men dance and I was affected by their sexuality much in the same way as I was when I watched the women dance. Soon I was a fan of the men, too and I noticed when they had new haircuts. It was as if my pleasure at being a fan of Ballet BC was twofold. It was!
I began to realize that manliness and passion had nothing to do with sexual persuasion. My most favourite male dancer ever, (seen below painting on Tiko Kerr's head), was passion on the floor. I enjoyed every performance of his as if it were his last and to this day I regret that he never played Dracula! The three young men are from left to right, Chengxin Wei, Justin Peck and James Russell Toth.
Thanks to Ballet BC and dance in Vancouver I persuaded my daughter Hilary to put Rebecca into dance at Arts Umbrella. Her first teacher was Ballet BC's Andrea Hodge
.It was at Arts Umbrella that I noticed the young boys and men of the company and how I could watch them without any personal embarrasment. I was watching dancers dance well. Their sex was irrelevant. It was thrilling. I even managed to write about it for a local magazine VLM
. The interviews helped me understand the intelligence and approach of the taciturn Ballet BC dancer Edmond Kilpatrick
, seen below, left with Acacia Schachte and Sandrine Cassini.
I will not argue that culture is important and that we must put more effort in attending (and buying tickets) dance, theatre, opera and musical performances. Not having a ballet company in Vancouver is a tragedy and Tiko Kerr points out that they represent Canada very well abroad.
I would only add that in many respects even with the death (I hope a most temporary one) Ballet BC represents us well even now. Lauri Stallings, seen here inspiring composer Owen Underhill at the piano, recently choreographed (one of the dancers she directed was Paloma Herrera) for the American Ballet Theater
in New York City. And our very own Arts Umbrella alumnus and Ballet BC dancer Acacia Schachte
dances for the prestigious US Cedar Lake contemporary ballet company. One of the choreographers is Crystal Pite
also a former dancer from Ballet BC who went on to dance for the Frankfurt Ballet and is now in Vancouver directing her own company Kidd Pivot
. And Ballet BC talent doesn't stop there. Some years ago Ballet BC Director and choreographer (seen here with dancer Gail Skrela) lured Frankfurt Ballet dancer Emily Molnar to Vancouver who was one major reason for steady shift from the company's classical ballet into the exciting new direction of modern ballet and modern dance. Emily Molnar now has her own dance company
and she is busy traveling the world as a highly rated choreographer. There is Ballet BC blood there seeping into the dance culture of the world.
And we must not forget that through the years Ballet BC has attempted, when possible and when budgets permitted, to use original and live music to accompany its dancers. One of the more elaborate performances was Carmina Burana and Carmen where full-sized orchestras were used. This meant jobs for free lance musicians and composers as in the recent Fairy Queen. In recent times many of the new ballets (like the Fairy Queen) were choreographed by John Alleyne. I wondered why we had not recently seen anything (as an example) by choreographer William Forsythe. After all when Alleyne started at Ballet BC we were exposed to many of Forsythe's ballets. The answer (from that graceful horse's mouth, Alleyne himself) was a teling one. I asked him a couple of months ago. He said,"In order for us to mount a Forsythe ballet we have to pay a royalty upwards of 75 thousand dollars plus we have to pay air fair and accomodation for one of Forsythe's'representatives to monitor our production.
There is one more debt of gratitude that I have for Ballet BC. The company in the many photo assignments that I had with them inspired me to shoot some of the best photographs of my career. This inspiration has not stopped as dance is now a very big chunk of my life. John Alleyne, Ballet BC, Miroslav Zydowicz, Andrea Hodge, Simone Orlando
, Acacia Schachte, Edmond Kilpatrick, Lauri Stallings
(seen in last picture here with Miroslav Zydowicz), Crystal Pite, Emily Molnar
and so many others thank you and come back soon.
A French Connection & The Other Darwin
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Some 29 years ago I went Claudia Beck and Andrew Gruft's Nova Gallery
on 4th Avenue and saw a print (printed by the photographer) of Moonrise Over Hernandez, New Mexico
by Ansel Adams. It was superb hanging in the middle of the room suspended by wires from the ceiling. For many of us this was the Holy Grail of the landscape photograph. It was the perfect landscape. We knew that Adams had been able to take but one exposure from a camera on a tripod on the roof of his pickup. We also knew that the one exposure was close to perfect because Adams knew the luminance value of the full moon. For many who dabbled in landscape they would often say that Adams's pictures were good only because he had the money and patience to wait for the best light.
What is the best light? As an example consider the problem of a landscape that has three separate areas.
1. A dramatic sky with puffy or storm clouds.
2. A middle region that is often a mountain chain with snow capped peaks.
3. A third region which us usually a valley (streams or lakes) in the shadow of the mountain range.
No b+w film or slide film can accommodate the three values. If you expose for the dramatic sky the snow on the peaks will go gray and the valley will be black. If you over-expose to get detail in the valley the snow will lose its detail and the sky will be disappointing. Adams waited for the best light and had his own personal trick that he called his Zone System. It worked with separate sheets of b+w film in larger formats but it failed with transparency or slide film.
For many years pristine and perfect landscapes were rare. We photographers would be wowed when we saw them. There was a large postcard demand for these pristine landscapes.
Then about 40 years ago a French company called Cokin revolutionized landscape photography with the mass distribution of its partial neutral density filters which were made of plastic. They were relatively expensive and you really had to take care of them as they scratched easily. Here you see such an example. This filter was large enough for most of my 35mm wide angle lenses. If you positioned the dark area on the top of the lens, the darkness would prevent light from entering your camera and exposing your film. As you took an exposure that was correct for that dark valley the neutral density (meaning it did not add or subtract colour) the resulting overexposure on the dark dramatic cloud was compensated by the top half of the Cokin filter. These filters came in all sort of gradations with narrower or darker bands of darkness. Then Coking came up with coloured neutral density filters. Instead of dark areas these areas would be in colour. The most popular was a reddish one that was called the tobacco filter. These filters started creeping into movies particularly the ones that were about the rosier time of yesteryear or in old cheddar TV ads (this is the way we used to make our cheese and this is still the same way we make it now).
One of the first things I did after marrying Rosemary in 1968 (but there is no connection) was getting a membership (this was before the magazine went public and you could buy it in newsstands or get a subscription) to the National Geographic. Thanks to the inept and corrupt Mexican postal system I never got more than 8 issues per year. I vowed to someday move to a country were I would get all 12 issues per year. This finally happened in 1975 when we moved to Vancouver. At the time I was dazzled by the photography of the magazine. But it was also at this time that Cokin was making itself known and I was disappointed and dismayed to see photograph in the Geographic (Robert Louis Stevenson's
tomb on top Mount Vaea on Upolu, Samoa) at about that time that had used the tobacco filter. The photographer had not waited for the light. The photographer had cheated.
I am happy to report that the Geographic from my vantage point has become again a magazine that is most important in my life. The photographs of animals in the current issue (December) in an article on Alfred Russel Wallace are terrific and the article so interesting I am going to look for a biography on this man that the Geographic calls The Other Darwin
. The magazine is a delight to read as it no longer seems to tow the US political line and when it reports on a country that is a dictatorship is says so. At one time the Geographic photographers would keep the horizon near the bottom of the picture. You never saw the squalor, the poverty or the dirt. That is long gone as the horizon has increasingly moved upwards.
Cokin is still in business but the digital camera industry will soon probably do it in. Photographers are now able to shoot that landscape (the sky, the mountain range, the valley) in three separate exposures and there are many cheap programs that will meld all three exposures seamlessly. If you pick up any photo magazine your eyes will soon grow tired or even blind to the page after page of perfect landscapes in intense colours. The reflections of the mountains on the lake are as perfect as the mountains themselves.
Looking back at the picture of Stevenson's tomb on Samoa I now don't see it so much as a travesty. It was only a modification of existing conditions that film could not handle. The eye can look at those three separate aspects of the landscape. It is the camera with film that fails. Now landscapes can all be perfect. As perfect as all those photographs of perfect models that even lack pores in their faces.
|Click and it will sharpen to read|
Can it be that we will no longer be thrilled by a picture taken from the roof of pickup as a one shot?
Imperato Stabile - Romano-Lax & Siam Di Tella
Monday, November 24, 2008
Memory and its selectiveness has fascinated me for a long time. I cannot fathom how it is that I spent close to six months seeing my father
every Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires in 1965 before he died and yet I cannot remember any of our conversations. Perhaps the only proof that it all happened is a photo that I took of him with my Pentacon F camera. I do remember that I snapped it on a Buenos Aires street named Carabobo which I have always thought to be a funny name even though it was the name of the decisive battle that Simón Bolivar won against the Spanish in 1821 and gave Venezuela its independence. And I have a fond memory of the oddly named Siam Di Tella car that my father (far right, in picture, left) is leaning on.
Some 28 years ago I used to frequent Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom with Vancouver Magazine rock journalist Les Wiseman. There was a young man that Wiseman kept introducing me to who was always at the concerts. I would invariably forget the young man's name. One day I ran into him on the street and told him I would never forget his name again because I used the trick of associating his name with Scottish patriot Robert the Bruce. Unfortunately this never did work. When I would see him at the Commodore I would think, "Is his name Robert or Bruce?"
Bud I do pride myself for my good memory for historical facts, for botanical names, the names of books and their corresponding authors and my memory for rose smells is acute as I can discern variations within the myrrh scent varieties of English Roses. I don't say I am good with botanical Latin because a friend, Donald Hodgson
a Latin teacher told me that botanical Latin has more of the Greek than of the latter. I have noticed that my botanical nomenclature in both Greek and Latin is good from Spring until late fall and then as the garden collapses and disappears my nomenclature fades, too. As soon as those plants begin to emerge in the spring their names are instantly retrieved from my memory banks!
Memory is much in my thoughts as I am reading Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
. It is about a man who wakes up with selective memory. On Wednesday I was browsing at Chapters on Granville and Robson. One novel (a period novel) caught my eye because the author's name was in what looked like classic Latin. I looked at the author photo and found out she lived in Alaska. I was intrigued. I put the book back when my eye caught a large print edition of a Donna Leon, Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery and I instantly bought it as I have a few relatives with poor eyes. I forgot about the Alaskan author with the Latin name.
On Saturday night Rebecca and I went to see Twilight
. When the credits were running in the end I was struck by a name. The unit manager of the film was Michelle Imperato Stabile. I dropped Rebecca off and as soon as I got home I punched the name into my computer but I found no mention of this woman being an author. Was my memory playing tricks? I tried different combinations of the name but found no novelist with a Latin name.
Today on my way to Van Arts I stopped at Chapters. I remembered exactly where the book had been and it was gone. I returned later and asked Nancy (she has a prodigious memory for the names of her book in the store) and we drew a blank. I told her that my only remaining solution was to stop at the other Chapters on Broadway and Granville and look there. Either I was crazy or the bookstore computer bank was in error.
In the other store I did not find Michelle Imperato Stabile. As I was about to leave I noticed a novel called The Spanish Bow
. The author's name was Andromeda Romano-Lax
. I looked for the author photo. Yes! She lives in Alaska. And yes, this time around I purchased the book.
The picture you see here of the author is taken by her husband Brian Lax. And of course my friend Donald Hodgson would have immediately pointed out that Andromeda was a Greek mythology name and that she was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia and wife of Perseus, who had rescued her from a sea monster.
From Orality To Literacy To Visuality While Curling Up With P.D. James
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Today I read every article in my Sunday NY Times Magazine twice. In particular I was struck by Becoming Screen Literate
writer Kevin Kelly. The second and third paragraphs of his essay hit home and you wonder what Marshall McLuhan would write about a world he might have had a inkling of but could never have predicted the present we live in now.
When technology shifts, it bends the culture. Once, long ago, culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation and rhetoric instilled in societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate and the subjective. Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. Gutenberg’s invention of metallic movable type elevated writing into a central position in the culture. By the means of cheap and perfect copies, text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. From printing came journalism, science and the mathematics of libraries and law. The distribution-and-display device that we call printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for linear logic (in a sentence), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact) and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book. In the West, we became people of the book.
Now invention is again overthrowing the dominant media. A new distribution-and-display technology is nudging the book aside and catapulting images, and especially moving images, to the center of the culture. We are becoming people of the screen. The fluid and fleeting symbols on a screen pull us away from the classical notions of monumental authors and authority. On the screen, the subjective again trumps the objective. The past is a rush of data streams cut and rearranged into a new mashup, while truth is something you assemble yourself on your own screen as you jump from link to link. We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift — from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.
In my own way I have written here
how our computer monitor and flat screen TV viewing has changed our perception of three dimensionality as we go towards a future when exploring a museum will be all with our Dell 2408 monitor as we pay Getty Images for a two minute viewing of La Gioconda.
I am so used to injecting hyperlinks in this blog that I feel frustrated when I read a novel or non fiction book and I notice a word I don't know or the mention of a historical character I want to know more about that instant. The Kindle
will take off only when it comes with a built in hyperlink.
The air beyond the window touches each source of light with a faint hepatic corona, a tint of jaundice edging imperceptibly into brownish translucence. Fine dry flakes of fecal snow, billowing in from the sewage flats, have lodged in the lens of night.
The above is the third paragraph from William Gibson's 1993 novel Virtual Light
. It is the scene looking out from a Mexico City hotel room and the paragraph describes to perfection what that Mexico City sky looks like and where I have seen puffy white clouds float by with dense pollution above them. Gibson confessed to me that when he wrote that paragraph he did it without ever having traveled to Mexico City. On a Kindle of a most immediate future readers would be able to find the definition of hepatic, corona and even fecal should they be curious.
The liniarity that Gutenberg brought with his press is just about dead. Consider the first paragraph of NY Times film critic A.O. Scott's essay The Screening in America
in today's NY Times Magazine:
A short time ago, in honor of the impending holiday season and the looming depression, I settled in for a viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I watched it on the same laptop on which I’m writing these words, with headphones plugged in to filter out distraction, though from time to time I did shrink the image so I could check my e-mail or my favorite blog.
The above sentences may be linear but A.O. Scott's actions are not. I have been often reminded by a friend that a computer's ability to multi-task is not a prerogative of the computer but an ability that is most human that has been programmed into the computer by humans. My friend reminds me that we don't scan rooms like computers but that computers scan like humans. While I may be shocked (and so would my friend John Lekich) on the travesty of admiring Donna Reed's eyes on a laptop or heaven forbid in cell phone's tiny screen, I just might accept that our ability to do this is probably hard-wired and that Gutenberg's influence on our liniarity may have been a passing phase.
Consider the ad for P.D. James's latest The Private Patient
in today's NY Times Book Review. It says, "Curl up with her new and immensely satisfying 14th Adam Dalgliesh mystery."
Who coined this term that is so often repeated that is as much of a cliché as the use of flawed
by film critics? Can one curl up with a laptop? The term for me is alien as I prop myself up with three or four pillows and read in bed. Are the folks advertising the James book convinced that all who read her are of a certain age. And that would eschew the laptop, the Kindle and would curl up in the family sofa in the living room? How many would be able to read in a living room having as potential competition that huge flat screen TV over the gas fireplace?
In Umberto Eco's 2004 novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
( a remarkable $10 bargain at Chapters for which I received a further 10% off with my irewards
card) a man wakes up in a hospital:
"And what's your name?"
"Wait, it's on the tip of my tongue."
That's how it all began.
The man, Yambo, a Milanese rare-book dealer does not remember his name, recognize his wife but can remember the plot of every book he has ever read and quote most accurately, He speaks in incredible almost disjointed streams of consciousness that seem to me to be stuff of the present. His utterings might disjoint Gutenberg's successors and crusty book reviewers. I was simply dazzled. Could Yambo's speech patterns be what ours will be as soon as hyperlinks operate in our brain?
I stroked the children and could smell their odor, without being able to define it except to say it was tender. All that came to mind was there are perfumes as fresh as a child's flesh
. And indeed my head was not empty, it was a maelstrom of memories that were not mine: the marchioness went out at five o'clock in the middle of the journey of our life, Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob and Jacob begat the man of La Mancha, and that was when I saw the pendulum betwixt a smile and tear, on the branch of Lake Como where late the sweet birds sang, the snows of yesteryear softly falling onth the dark mutinous Shannon waves, messieurs les Anglais je me suis couché de bonne heure
though words cannot heal the women come and go, here we shall make Italy, or a kiss is a just a kiss, tu quoque alea,
a man without qualities fights and runs away, brothers to Italy ask not what you can do for your country, the plow that makes the furrow will live to fight another day, I mean a Nose by any other name, Italy is made now the rest is commentary, mi espíritu se purifica en Paris con aguacero
don't ask us for the word crazed with light, we'll have our battle in the shade and suddenly it's evening, around my heart three ladies' arms I sing, oh Valentino Valentino where art though , happy families are all alike said the bridegroom to the bride, Guido I wish that mother died today, I recognized the trembling of man's first disobedience, de la musique où marchent de colombes
, go little book to where the lemons blossom, once upon a time there lived Achilles son of Peleus, and the earth was without form and too much with us, Licht mehr licht über alles
, Contessa what or what is life? and Jill came tumbling after, Names, names, name": Angelo Dallóca Bianca, Lord Brummell, Pindar, Flaubert, Disraeli, Remigio Zena, Jurassic, Fattori, Straparola and the pleasant nights, de Pompadour, Smitth and Wesson, Rosa Luxemburg, Zeno Cosini, Palma the Elder, Archaeopteryx, Ciceruacchio , Matthew Mark Luke John, Pinocchio, Justine, Mari Goretti, Thaïs the whore with the shitty fingernails, Osteoporosis, Saint Honoré, Bactria Ecbatana Persopolis Susa Arbela, Alexander and the Gordian knot.
The encyclopedia was tumbling down on me, its pages loose, and I felt like waving my hands the way one does amid a swarm of bees. Meanwhile the children were calling me Grandpa, I knew I was supposed to love them more than myself, and yet I could not tell which was Giangio, which was Alessandro, which was Luca. I knew all about Alexander the Great, but nothing about Alessandro the tiny, the mine.