That Wholesome Girl From Tarzana California
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Bettie Page dead at 85.
I received that yesterday, understandably, as Wiseman is a fan of the whole genre. My immersion or perhaps awareness of glamour photography, pin-ups and fetish began when I moved with my family to Vancouver in 1975. I swore that when I arrived I would immediately be able to go to any newstand (not so at the time in Mexico City) and purchase a Playboy without feeling guilty or ashamed. This I did. Soon after I found myself being hired (imagine that!) by the folks of the Drake Hotel, Marr Pub, Cecil Hotel and the No 5 Orange to shoot posters to decorate their strip bars. By the standards of today those posters were in good taste, not showing much. I would categorize them as glamour, which curiously is one of the few words in which Americans retain that u.
In fact I have two fat folders in my files labeled Glamour I and Glamour II. These two files are within four large filing cabinet drawers labeled Nudes. You see I have taken quite a few nude photographs in my years in this city. But I never indulged in pornography, and not because I didn't try. I discovered that to shoot pornography one has to quench one's innate sense of good taste. Even though I cringe when most people call my nudes by that "oh-so-horrible" epithet, tasteful
I have to admit that most of my pictures are tame. If they are tame it is entirely all my fault. I have discovered through the years that a woman's imagination for the erotic is richer, more intelligent and in many cases crasser than a man's. I have been gently urged or pushed by some of my female and some male subjects to go beyond my parameters. In most cases I balked.
Much of Bettie Page's fame should be attributed to the erstwhile model and photographer Bunny Yeager. Yeager grew impatient at the clumsiness and lack of originality of the male photographers that took her pictures and decided she could do better. She started taking her own pictures (that's a self portrait of Yeager here with Betti Page) and became so good at it that she launched her career as a glamour and pin-up photographer. On the way to fame she took the memorable pictures of Bettie Page with a pair of chettahs while wearing nothing (in some versions) and a tiny leopard-skin swimsuit in others. When Playboy's Hefner invited her into the fold and to travel to Chicago, she decided to stay put in her home in Miami. Her career might have suffered because of this decision.
It was in Yeager's photographs of Page that I discern that wholesomeness that Page is so famously attributed with. Note this from my copy of Bunny Yeager's Art of Glamour Photography
(1962 AMPHOTO New York)The photographer working in the home can use any kind of lighting he prefers: flashbulbs, strobe, floodlights, or just existing light. Let us go now from room to room to show you what can be done with each surrounding.
Wing-type chairs are good for portraits, as the model can peek at you from around one of the wings while she sits in the chair...
Now let's go to into the bedroom. A frilly feminine bedroom of course is more desirable that a plain masculine one. A prop that you might care to buy and keep on hand for such purposes is a quilted satin comforter in some photogenic colour like blue. They don't wrinkle easily and I've found you can even wash them in the washing machine when they get soiled without damaging them pictorially. If you have such a prop, you can change the plainest looking bedroom into one of grandeur... well almost.
Yeager's little book is just like that, charming in its innocent way of a time that we now see as being quite innocent even if it wasn't. As a photographer I had my versions of Bettie Page. Two that stand out are Maddalena di Gregorio
, below left and right, and Katheryn Petersen
. The former gave me hints of a darker existence of chains and cuffs but I was much too afraid to look in.
She would smile at me in her generous Italian mother role, almost hiding a much more complex and probably more exciting nature. Or as in the second picture of Maddalena here, she would grow serious and sad and somehow become the universal Flemish Maddona/Eve. It was perhaps here with Maddalena where I lost all hope (gladly) of ever wanting to take pin-up and glamour photographs. Perhaps nobody ever penetrated Bettie Page's veneer of wholesome feminity. It was with Maddalena that I discovered that there was more within and that it was much more arresting.
Katheryn Petersen posed for me many times. She was flexible and easy going with a quick smile that almost made me forget her super-model wide cheek bones and astounding eyes. But every once in a while she would say, "Alex when I show up at the studio just shoot. Don't ask any questions." I did this a few times and once when the pictures involved some tying up I told her, "I feel so sorry for you. You look so helpless!" Her retort convinced me I had no idea about her ways, "That's the last thing you are supposed to say," and she smiled and made me feel comfortable again.
Not that she didn't sometimes scare the hell out of me. Once she became a vampire in my studio. I almost wished I had brought a turtle neck sweater.
In 1956 my mother got her job teaching at the ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) town of Nueva Rosita in the state of Coahuila. She told me of a young bachelor mining engineer she found charming called Juan Jaime. Perhaps I was too shy or Jaime was shy, too, since I don't remember talking to him much. We lived in the American Hotel (that's what it was called) as did Jaime for three years. We had our three meals (home cooked) at the hotel. Next to the dining room there was a den/living room with a magazine rack. Juan Jaime would walk in some days and he added his magazines (he must have been subscribed to them) Argosy, True, Esquire
(and sometimes!) Playboy
. I would sneak in and nervously look and read them. I distinctly remember reading in True
an article on a young boxer called Cassius Clay who boasted that some day he was going to be champion of the world. These magazines (Esquire
at the time was a girlie magazine) provided me with my first real glimpses of the female anatomy. My previous experience had been lame Mexican magazines that showed, page after page, pictures of Brigitte Bardot's cleavage. I was far too young to have discerning eyes so I have no recollection of Bettie Page appearing in any of Jaime's magazines.
But now and in the last few years I could not see the women on Granville Street in stark white skin and dyed black hair in bangs with piercings, here and there, not to realize where the inspiration had come.
Nor when I first met Bib Naked (seen above with our mutual friend Nina, another muse of mine) quite a few years ago not notice who one of her role models was. Who would have known as I was guiltily looking into Juan Jaime's Argosies
that some day I would be teaching a class called The Contemporary Portrait Nude at Focal Point? Thanks to Maddalena, Katheryn and many others I came to understand that you cannot teach nude photography in this century with any kind of justification that would satisfy my inner feelings of what is correct and what isn't. Such a class has to have more.
Four years ago when I went with Rebecca and Rosemary to Buenos Aires my new and modern Canadian sensibilities chafed at looking at toothpaste ads showing women in bikinis with big smiles holding a tube of Colgate. I got into massive arguments with my Irish/Argentine rugby nephews when I protested the stupidity of such ads. They questioned my manhood and thought that Canada had corrupted it. I told them I could not justify the photography of women in bathing suits posing by muscle cars or large motorcycles. I could not tell them that I would even opose modern versions of Bunny Yeager's bikini pictures on a beach (with the blast of that handle mount flash). They would not have recognized Yeager nor would they have known who Bettie Page was.
In my Focal Point class The Contemporary Portrait Nude I emphasize the humanity of our subjects that face our cameras. I have the school hand out my Model Protocol
to any new model. My students read it, too. I listen and watch closely how my students talk and deal with the nude models of our class. Our classes run smoothly in what in most circumstances would offer lots of moments for stress and embarrassment. A few months ago in class 9 (there are 10 sessions in each course) one of my students asked a strangely costumed Yuliya
what the purpose of the outfit was. Yuliya, below, with that casual but unsettling glance of hers told him, "It's used for sitting on a man's face." Who would have known, even a couple of years ago that one of the segments of my contemporary nude portrait class would be as contemporary as having one themed on fetish? I now find it entirly logical.
My argument for this is that in spite of Bettie Page's popularizing (all smiles even when she was gagged and tied) this genre called fetish, it really did not achieve a mainstream status until recently. I believe that there are now weekly fetish parties in Burnaby. If they have them in Burnaby ( I dare say this as I used to live there) then it must be mainstream. From Yuliya we have found out that fetish has rules set in stone. "A dom
would not do this," she will tell our class, adding, "Only a sub
would pose like that."
Not too long ago I saw a French photography magazine in the window of Sophia Books with the delightfully luscious Sophie Marceau on the cover. I bought it. Inside I was startled (not by the Marceau spread) by a photograph that featured a woman from the waist down (wearing brief underwear) who had octopus tentacles wrapped around her long legs and slim ankles. The photograph was in an equally startling bold and sharp colour. I immediately coined the expression and labeled the photograph as "nouveau fetish". What then would replace the tired, structured world of fetish in the 21st century where pornography is so prevalent that even it does not shock anymore?
I believe I have the answer. A few years ago I had one of my favourite models in my studio. At her request we were making some liberal versions of the Audrey Hepburn she adored. This involved elegant hats, long black satin gloves, fishnets and a silk scarf. She was not wearing much beyond that and my studio was cold. My model put on a coat. It was difficult not to notice that it was a man's heavy wollen Herrinbone coat. I asked her, "Where did you get that?" She looked at me with almost no emotion and said, "It is my father's." I took my picture. It is as startling and as scary as the octopus legs. I cannot show it here. But it was then that I knew that any attempt at nouveau fetish has to come from within the model and the photographer. The shock is internal. It is in the glance of the face. It is more subtle without the need for chains, cuffs or fake (and or real) blood.
Would Bettie Page have known this? I am sure she (like my Maddalena) would have known. But good models that they both were, Maddalena is alive and well and living in Milan, they stood their ground and waited for the photographer to discover it and perhaps draw it out. It is the failure of Page's time and of her contemporaries, those male photographers who never seemed curious enough to look further. As for Katheryn? Here she is below with her Bettie tattoo.
The book cover at the beginning of this, La Vida Invisible
(2003) by Spanish novelist Juan Manuel de Prada is a fictional story based on the time that Bettie Page (called Fanny Riffel here) dissapeared at the height of her fame in 1957, her private life of three decades, her fight against poverty and mental ilness (she was institutionalized in California after attacking her landlady) and her emerging from it as a born-again Christian. In the novel, too, is the account on how she was summoned by the US Senate committee headed by Estes Kefauver that was investigating pornography. An attendant at the asylum becomes a friend of Page and she talks to him candidly while he makes sure of taping the conversations. All this is investigated and re-told through a Spanish journalist who goes to Chicago to escape the prospect of a boring marriage. In Chicago he meets up with a woman who has fallen for a violinist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, a VSO going through severe finacial times! De Prada's account of our fair city is not a pleasant one:La calle tenía ese aspecto pulcro, enojosamente pulcro y grisáceo, que los mediterráneos atribuimos a las ciudades suizas; la noche se ahondaba a lo lejos, refugiada en un parque que lindaba con la acera de enfrente, muy escasamente iluminada, a diferencia de la acera a la que se había arrimado el taxi, sobresaltada de farolas que proyectaban sobre el suelo charcos de una luz que parecía la vomitona de un enfermo de paludismo.
The street had a clean and neat look, an upsetting clean neat and grayish, which we Mediterraneans attribute to Swiss cities; the night disappeared into the distance but took refuge in a poorly lit park that bordered the sidewalk across the street while the sidewalk on this side, where the taxi had stopped, was amply lit by street lights that cast puddles of light the colour of the bile of someone suffering yellow fever
Streaking Meteors Past The Smoking Angel
Friday, December 12, 2008
I hate photographs of people with angel wings.
The only one I have ever liked is the one hanging in my den. It was taken and given to me by my photographer friend Brian Lynch in 1992. About three years later, while living in a tepee in Vernon he decided to go and watch a meteor shower. Lynch suffered from diabetes and in a previous accident had suffered a leg amputation. This time around while looking at the meteors streaking across the sky he stumbled and fell. In the hospital he was told his other leg would have to be amputated. We were told that he had a heart seizure, not long after, and died. I have missed this man every day of my existence and particularly when I look up at the angel in my den. I know that the little female angel is holding a cigarette in right hand. I smile.
Lynch was a large, quiet spoken, gentle and kind gay man. His life changed from one day to the next while proselytizing as a Mormon Elder in California sometime in the late 70s. He rang the bell at a house and the man who opened the door smiled and invited him in. It was Timothy Leary. Like Peter the Rock, Lynch left everything behind and became the man I learned to love. He was as good a photographer as I have ever known. He had a penchant for curating exhibitions. It was from him that I learned that big was not better. He told me once, "Alex, I love photographs that are not bigger than 4x5 inches. It forces the gallery viewer to come up close and almost put their nose on the glass. This creates and intimate situation that does not exist with big photographs."
I had a joint show with him at the Helen Pitt Gallery downtown sometime around 1991. A couple of days before the opening he suffered a stubbed toe and went to St, Paul's Hospital. The toe became a gangrenous leg which was then amputated just below the knee. This did not prevent Lynch from showing up to the opening in a taxi.
I miss going to his old studio/loft near BC Sugar. I miss having strong coffee and discussing photography, complete with f-stops, chemical formulas and his trademark Emerson effect for b+w printing. As my friends and I mutually wander off into our private lives I miss Lynch's smile and his voice and most of all those big manly hugs of his.
As I was looking at the angel today I remembered one of my poet friend Homero Aridjis's poems about an angel. He has written many angel poems. Aridjis, while probably at least an agnostic, has a deep belief (because he is a poet?) in angels. This one is one of my favourites.The Angel Speaks
With words, with colours, in silence
they moved in, gave me wings and hair
locked me into human form.
And now like an mortal
with its silhouette and shadow
I am on the inside of me.
Stonemasons, painters and poets
laboured day and night
to shape me out of their dreams.
I want to escape the body's cage,
take back my original being, that
Homero Aridjis from Eyes to See Otherwise
Ojos de otro mirar
Poem translated by George McWhirter, Vancouver Poet LaureateHabla El Ángel
Con palabras, con colores, en silencio,
me cercaron, me dieron alas y cabello,
me fueron encerrando en una forma humana.
Y ahora estoy adentro de mí mismo,
con silueta y sombra,
como cualquier mortal.
Lapidarios, pintores y poetas,
trabajaron día y noche
para darme la forma de su sueño.
Yo quiero escapar de la jaula de los cuerpos
y recobrar mi ser original,
el de la invisibilidad perfecta.
The Beauty And The Beast & A Beauty Again
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Flügelhorn, translates into English from the German as wing horn. Purportedly the instrument was used on the battlefield to summon the flanks, or wings, of an army.
After the performance of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
directed by Bill Millerd at the Stanley I could not move from my seat. I allowed the much younger audience, including many children and one boy, I know for a fact is 4, to leave. I then waited at the lobby while Rosemary munched on grapes. I was on the lookout for the cool looking Henry Christian. When I saw him I simply asked, "Can you show it to me?" He took me up to a room and opened a case. Inside was the most beautiful red-gold coloured flugelhorn I have ever seen. The flugelhorn (also spelled fluegelhorn or flügelhorn) is a brass instrument resembling a trumpet but with a wider, conical bore. Some consider it to be a member of the saxhorn family developed by Adolphe Sax (who also developed the saxophone); however, other historians assert that it derives from the keyed bugle designed by Michael Saurle (father), Munich 1832 (Royal Bavarian privilege for a "chromatic Flügelhorn" 1832), thus predating Adolphe Sax's innovative work.
I have seen and heard Christian play the trumpet with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra. But last night, besides the trumpet, he played a flugelhorn. The sound is unmistakable. My first taste for the flugelhorn was in 1962 when I ran home with much anticipation from a record store in Mexico City with a copy of Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain
and heard it played with a Harmon mute. After that I bought records with Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Maynard Furguson and Thad Jones. All played the flugelhorn and, yes! (no Chuck Mangione).
I am sure that the children had a great time with that marvelous revolving castle, scary electric-eyed wolves, beautiful costumes, pleasant songs and the S&M performance of "dom", Gaston (Jonathan Winsby) and his "sub", the ever suffering LeFou, (Vincent Tong) who kept slipping on a banana.
We adults, Rosemary and I, enjoyed the first rate performance of singers and actors of this production which features a dance of tankards to end all dance of tankards, a cancan with human spoons and knives, and plenty of leg and saucy cleavage, courtesy of Monique Lund who plays Babette. In less political times she (Babette) would have been called a nyphomaniac. I am glad they (nymphomaniacs), while endangered, are still about.
But as good and charming (and so wholesome, too!) as Belle (Amy Wallis) was, and also her partner the Beast played by Steve Maddock, my eyes followed the crazy antics of Lumiere (a walking candle stick) played by Matt Palmer and the 3cPo(esque) performance of Daniel Arnold, below right, as Cogsworth the talking and ticking, and walking clock. After seeing Arnold in the Arts Club production of Poster Boys
I can assert I would go to any play with Arnold in it. The tone of the flugelhorn is "fatter" and usually regarded as more "mellow" and "dark" than that of the trumpet or cornet. The sound of the flugelhorn has been described as approximately halfway between a trumpet and a horn, whereas the cornet's sound has been described as approximately halfway between a trumpet and a flugelhorn. The flugelhorn has a similar level of agility to the cornet but is more difficult to control in the high register (from approximately written G above the staff), where in general it "slots" or locks onto notes less easily. It is not generally used for aggressive or bright displays as both trumpet and cornet can be, but tends more towards a softer and more reflective role.
But at the end of the night, musical director (and keyboards) Bruce Kellett and his band (Graham Boyle, percussion, Henry Christian, trumpet/flugelhorn, Ken Cormier, keyboards, Neil Nicholson, trombone, and Sasha Niechoda, keyboards) made my day with a sound that was much bigger than the sum of its parts. I had a short chat with Henry Christian after he showed me that flugelhorn. I noted the extremely low and sonorous notes that could not possibly be that of a normal tenor trombone. Trombonist Neil Nicholson plays the tuba and the bass trombone, too. Could he have brought one of those along? It seems not. Nicholson managed to hit those very low notes (the monster was usually doing scary things) and at the same time play very high sounds that blended with the lower and mellower Christian flugelhorn.
A virtuoso performance by the trombonist, the rare and lovely sound of a flugelhorn all add up to an exciting evening for both jaded adults and a respite for children from iPods, computers and special effects.
With both It's a Wonderful Life
and Beauty and the Beast
, Artistic Managing Director Bill Millerd has assured our city of a continuing Vancouver Christmas tradition for all ages. Let's hope somebody tells him soon of the existence of the Easter Bunny.
The image of the flugelhorn came from the beautiful site of musician and composer Erik Veldkamp
For those wanting to take children note that there are various matinees and some early evening performances until the play closes January 4, 2009. Look here
A Coil, 49 Traffic Lights, Kingsway & My Goof Cords
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Rosemary is helping out Rebecca with her French science assignments which this month are all about electricity. They are discussing parallel and series circuits. I heard a word I had not heard for years, bobine
in French which is very close to the Spanish bobina
. As I transversed the city on Kingsway Avenue to Kinsgway and Sperling (49 traffic lights. I counted them and I stopped for at least half of them!) to drop off my broken glasses at All-Canadian Eyeglass Repair, I thought about bobina. This is what went through my memory.
It must have been at least 38 years ago when as a teacher in high school in Mexico City one of my students asked me if I had ever heard of Alice Copper. The whole class laughed at me when I replied, "No, who's she?" I had a very good class and we made a pact that we would try to learn each other's music. Thanks to them I caught on to the Allman Brothers Band
and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
. I taught them about Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Mozart and Bach and took them to an old Mexican baroque church to listen to Vivaldi. I remember that one of the pieces was the C Major Mandolin Concerto and the other was a briskly played Gloria RV-589
(just the way I like it).
I was extremely surprised when my class showed up all dolled up in dresses and suits. I was wearing a brand new brown one I had purchased at a spiffy local store on Paseo de la Reforma called Zapico. It was a terrific suit. Halfway through the concert there was lots of rain and an electrical storm. After one very loud bang all the lights in the church went out. One of the street transformers had been blown out. The conductor, a lugubrious looking Italian, told us the show would go on as soon as the waiters in the restaurant next door brought candles. It was a concert that my students and I will never forget. The flickering of the candles on the gilt baroque altar was magical. We decided to celebrate in a cafe in the Zona Rosa. The Mexico City air was fresh and brisk because of the rain and the electrical storm. I was enjoying the clean air by smoking a pipe! As soon as we entered the cafe I slipped the pipe into my upper jacket pocket. A few minutes we could smell smoke. There was a large hole in my front pocket! Smoke was coming out of it. The usual low oxygen content of Mexico City's altitude had somehow received a bonus of oxygen in the storm. I was depressed. A week later after taking my suit to an inivisible mender it was as good as new. It was then that someone told me that I looked terrible in a brown suit.
At about that time I had this state of the art (then) Acoustic Research
amplifier that sported an international circuit. It could be used in either 110 or 220 volt household current. It had circuit breakers for protection. During the weekends my amplifier would turn off randomly. I decided to buy a volt meter to find out why . To my horror the usual 110 voltage was hovering close to 200 during the day. During the week the voltage would sometimes go down to 50. I enquired and I was told that the nearby factories in Tlanepantla would not operate during the weekends so voltage would go up. And during the week they would severely test Mexico City's electrical system.
If you ever travel in Mexico City or anywhere in Mexico you will see lots of mechanical shops that feature the word re-bobinado
. This means to re-coil. Electrical motors (even those in car generators) work because a coil of thin copper wire surrounds magnets around a shaft. The action of electricity and magnets causes the shaft to turn. Fluctuating voltage makes coils burn out. Think of blenders, drills, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, etc. It is virtually impossible to have a fridge with its original motor coil for more than a couple of years. You don't throw your appliances, you have their motors re-coiled!
Living in a third world country means that, paradoxically, little is thrown away. It is fixed somehow. This philosophy even translates itself into the consumption of the lowly pig. There are pig snout tacos and pig ear tacos and that list goes on.
There is a bit of that philosophy with the folks that repair my glasses All-Canadian Eyeglass Repair on 6817 Kingsway. I go there cheerfully in spite of those 49 traffic lights.
In a slight detour I would like to point out that I saw my first traffic light in 1952 outside the Retiro train Station in Buenos Aires. It was at the corner of the station and Avenida Libertador General San Matín. The reason I had not noticed it before is that it happened to have been the first semáforo
in Buenos Aires.
My glasses besides suffering broken lenses (I always wear glass glasses) have multiple cases of broken patitas
(legs) which in English are either called arms or temples. These patitas break because I use goof cords. Why are they called goof cords? My friend Les Wiseman, who taught me the term, says that anybody who uses them looks like one.
My first experience with broken arms by reason of goof cords was some 12 years ago when writer Evelyn Lau, left, visited me. When she was about to leave she asked me to hug her. There was crunch and both arms collapsed. It has been like that since. If I don't use goof cords, I cannot find my glasses and I squint at my computer monitor.
The folks on Kingsway repair my glasses, usually in less than 30 minutes.They never tell me to throw them away or that they are not worth repairing. While I would not like to experience Mexico City's voltage problems in Vancouver I would like to see more shops that promote the repair of stuff instead of converting into it into land fill.
The Geisha In Armour
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
So many years ago my writer friend Ben Metcalfe had a 50s modern house in West Vancouver that had a brook running underneath it. Behind the house, where the brook came from Metcalfe had built a Japanese garden. He kept the very fine wine he made in the little Japanese hut. Metcalfe (seen here by the brook with his son Michael) had seen the picture of Susanne Tabata (not this one, as this Polaroid surfaced only today, long lost in an envelope). "Alex," he told me, "I want you to convince your Japanese/Canadian friend to pose here in my garden, you know..."and with the wink of his eyes I knew he wanted me to photograph the beautiful woman in the nude. I did ask Susanne Tabata and she did decline, to Metcalfe's disappointment. I managed to convince Tabata to pose for me wearing part of Joe Cohen's armour collection. Joe Cohen had the Sony concession for all Canada, he was a philanthropist and honorary Vancouver Police Chief. Every once in a while I went to him when I needed a broad sword for a shoot that required one. I photographed Christopher Gaze (below, left) as Richard III with the same sword.
To this day I wonder what would have been the result if Tabata had declined the session with the armour and acceded to posing like a Geisha
Goethe Said That Architecture
Monday, December 08, 2008
A day of melancholy can only be improved one way. This is by accentuating it.
A trick is to listen to Franz Schubert's Quintet in C Major, D. 956
which he completed shortly before October 2, 1828. A fatal illness overcame him four weeks later and he died on November 18. He alluded to this quintet being his last major work in a letter to a friend, but in fact he wrote Der Hirt Aud Dem Felsen
(The Shepherd on the Rock) D. 965 before he died. Both compositions are conveniently in the same CD. Yesterday evening I listened to both, by the fireplace in our den while Rosemary drove Hilary, Rebecca and Lauren home after dinner.
The Quintet has to be just about the most beautiful work of music ever written yet (and that is why it is so good) also one of the most complex pieces of music ever composed, from the point of view of this amateur's ears.
Just a couple of days ago I received an email from my friend, Spanish musical conductor Juan Castelao
asking me to check a word in an Homero Aridjis poem. The internet version in English had an error. My book Eyes to See Otherwise
by Homero Aridjis
and edited by Betty Farber and George McWhirter (Vancouver's Poet Laureate) has the poems in Spanish on one page and in English on the other. The poem Castelao
was interested in, Goethe Said That Architecture
happened to be translated into English by McWhirter himself.Goethe Said That Architecture
Goethe said that architecture
is frozen music,
but I believe it to be petrified music,
and cities, symphonies built out of time,
concerts of visible forgetting.
Of sounds and silences wrought
into iron, wood and air, he said nothing,
perhaps he spoke about the places of verb
where we live, and that way alluded
to us language factories.
Musical streets didn't concern him either,
although man slips via these walkable rivers
into old age, love, the night, up to a table, into bed,
like a sonata of flesh and bone.
Goethe Decía Que La Arquitectura
Goethe decía que la Arquitectura
es música congelada,
pero you creo que es música petrificada
y las ciudades son sinfonías de tiempo construido,
conciertos de olvido visible.
De labrar sonidos y silencios
sobre hierro madera y aire, no dijo nada;
quizás habló de los lugares del verbo
en que vivimos, y con eso aludió
a nosotros, fábricas de lenguaje.
De calles musicales no se ocupó tampoco,
aunque por esos ríos caminables
el hombre va a la vejez, al amor, a la noche,
a la mesa, a la cama,
como una sonata de carne y hueso.
The sleeping violinist posed, unknowingly, for my camera around 1962 in la Alameda Central a park in downtown Mexico City. Aridjis's last line, like a sonata of flesh and blood
, reminds me of Schubert
writing: The product of my genius and my misery, and that which I have written in my greatest distress, is that which the world seems to like best.
The melancholy isn't entirely gone.
The Shy Boston Brahmin Paints The Town Blue
Sunday, December 07, 2008
In May 1983 I read in the Vancouver Sun
that there was going to be a stripper convention, the Golden G-Strings, in Las Vegas"
in June and that Vancouver, famous for athletically inclined ecdysiasts
), was going to be represented. I knew that I had to find a way of going to Las Vegas. It was far easier than I thought. I called Western Airlines (it existed then and it flew Vancouver/Las Vegas. I told the PR department that Maclean's
was sending me to the convention. They told me I would have a ticket waiting the day the convention started. I called the Province
and talked to the Sunday Magazine (in those days it appeared on Saturday) editor and told him that Maclean's
was sending me to Las Vegas. "$1000 for story and picture," he told me.
Armed with the Province assignment I called Maclean's and told them I was going for the Province. "One thousand for short blurb and pictures." I flew to Las Vegas first class (the first time in my life) and when I arrived at the Sahara, the convention hotel, I was given $15 per day journalist rate.
In three days I took almost one thousand photographs. On the first morning I photographed the strippers who were registering. There were loud ones, fat ones, thin ones coming from all parts of North America. I greeted the Vancouverites. There was one elegant but quiet and shy woman in a white dress sitting in a sofa. I snapped a few pictures of her. During the convention I noticed that she was shunned and she kept to herself.
I will not write here how it was that I became a judge and sat with fellow judges, burlesque legend Tempest Storm on one side and a Las Vegas mafioso packing heat in his shoulder holster on the other. On the last afternoon I approached the shy stripper and asked her why she kept to herself. The moment she opened her mouth I knew why.
She sounded like President John Kennedy dressed in drag. She had that Boston Brahmin accent. "The other girls think I am stuck up, but I am just shy," she told me. She added, "I haven't had much of a good time."
I have long forgotten her name but I had a proposal for her. "How would you like to walk on the strip with me and have a strawberry daiquiri at each major hotel? " She smiled and said, "Yes, wait a bit while I change."
She appeared a few minutes later dressed in electric blue tights, a skimpy top and high pumps of the same colour. As we walked on the strip we heard all kinds of tire screeches, brakes. Many cars stopped to yell at us perhaps blaming us for their near accidents. I felt like a million dollars and could not believe my good fortune. On the way I managed to take a few pictures. They are not very good as the daiquiris began to take their toll. Sitting at the hotel bars we watched the attendants slip large fresh strawberries into the blender. We would have rejected anything artificial. I explained to her how the drink, properly spelled and capitalized as Daiquirí was the name of a beach near Santiago, Cuba. I wanted to say Cuba so that she would repeat it with that Kenneydyesque r
at the end! I told her how the drink (without strawberries) had been a fave of both Kennedy and Hemingway.
We returned to the hotel in a taxi. At the lobby she thanked me for the evening. I felt like a boy scout who had done his duty. She said, "I really had a good time."
I never saw her again.
A couple of months later, the evening of August 31 I was in bed alone. I was depressed. It was my birthday and Rosemary had gone to New Dublin, Ontario to visit her parents. I called up a few of my friends. They weren't home. For years I have hated my birthday so I don't tell anybody about it. Since they don't know they don't wish me a happy birthday. By the time I called my friend Ian Bateson I was so low in spirits that I sang to his answering machine, "Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me..." I went down to the kitchen knowing I would find fresh strawberries in the fridge. I made myself a blender-full daiquiri, and in one of the few times in my life I almost drank myself into oblivion. I was almost levitating on the bed (it felt like that) feeling no pain thinking of luscious blondes in electric blue tights. I heard a noise at the front door, "Happy birthday, Alex, I decided to fly home early because I did not want you to be alone." When she noticed in what state I was she became angry and I was instantly sober and guilty.