Suna no Onna
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
In 1965 in Buenos Aires I went with Susy to see a film I will never forget. I saw it once. Susy
was out to educate me and mold me to her desire that I be cultured. She took me to see my first two operas at the Teatro Colón, Sergei Prokofiev's Fiery Angel
and Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Uridice
. She especially wanted to break my love for westerns and war films. She said I was uncouth. She wanted me to appreciate European art films. My previous experience
had not been a good one. I had seen most of Michelangelo Antonioni films because I had the hots for Monica Viti not because I understood the Italian cinematographer's art.
The film I saw with Susy was Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 The Woman in the Dunes
or Suna no Onna
. It was a beautifully startling film. It was as erotic as film as I have ever seen. This film has remained fused in my memory like a bad sunburn at the beach at the end of a hot summer day. No matter where I have gone since, I look at sand in a way I had never had before. I had never seen a film where you could hear (or was it my imagination?) the falling of individual grains of sand.
Sand: An aggregate of rock fragments. Sometimes Including loadstone, tinstone, and more rarely gold dust. Diameter: 2 to 1/16 mm.
The Woman In The Dunes - Kobo Abé
In The Woman in the Dunes
the woman was the sexual agressor. It didn't quite hit me then how unlikely this was coming from a then very conservative and male-oriented Japanese society.
He started toward the container on the earthen floor for a little water. Suddenly he heard the breathing of the sleeping woman on the other side of the sunken hearth and looked over. He swallowed his breath, quite forgetting the aching of his eyelids. She was stark naked.
She seemed to float like a blurred shadow before his tear filled eyes. She lay face up on the matting, her whole body, except her head, exposed to view; she had placed her left hand lightly over her lower abdomen, which was smooth and full. The parts that one usually covered were completely bare, while the face, which anybody would show, was concealed under a towel. No doubt the towel was to protect her nose, mouth and eyes from the sand, but the contrast seemed to make the naked body stand out even more.
The Woman In The Dunes - Kobo Abé
In this film sand pours and is in everything. Watching the protagonists drink made me want to drink. I could feel the grit of the sand that was present in everything, in their food, in their drink, in their eyes, in their cavities.
She gathered up the towel with a nervous gesture, and with unexpected energy slapped her face with it two or three times and then, completely turning her back to him, crouched with her knees doubled beneath her and her face to the floor. Was it a bashful movement? This was hardly the place. The man let out a shout as if a dam had given way.
The Woman In The Dunes - Kobo Abé
Halfway through he film I could guess what the man, amateur entomologist Nikei Jumpei already knew. He was in a sandpit with a woman and he would never be able to escape- a Sisyphus, eternally at the bottom of a hole. No great stone to push up just grains with little variations that follow a Gaussian distribution curve with a true mean of 1/8mm.
Then there was a small avalanche of sand.
Apprehensively, he returned to the hut. He went directly to the woman, who had remained crouching. He raised his left hand threateningly. His eyes glittered as he stood there agonizing. But halfway through the gesture, his arm, which he had raised with such purpose, suddenly collapsed. Perhaps he would feel better if he slapped the naked woman. But wouldn't this be just the part he was expected to play? She was waiting for it. Punishment inflicted, in other words, would mean that the crime had been paid for.
The Woman In The Dunes - Kobo Abé
For several years I photographed Helen Yagi. The pictures here I took with my Mamiya RB modified to be a pinhole camera. Looking back I can understand now that Helen was the best subject I ever had and that any limitations that I may have felt in taking her photographs were my own personal limitations. When she found out about my love for the film The Woman in The Dunes
she said, "Alex why don't we bring bucketfulls of sand up to your studio and shoot scenes from the film?" I thought, at the time that Helen was crazy. How were we going to cart all that sand up three floors and then get rid of it? Of course she was not crazy at all. I simply could not see. Just like Nikei Jumpei, I had no vision at the bottom of my sandpit.
A few days ago while browsing through the fiction section at Chapters I found Kobo Abé's The Woman in the Dunes
translated by E. Dale Saunders and illustrated by Machi Abé. It is a Vintage International edition, 1991.
One Wise King - Not
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
At least twice by the end of 2008 I wrote about melancholy, here
. While much of that melancholy was dissipated by Christmas cheer it is back in full force as I contemplate on my Christmas tree on January 6, the Epiphany or as we know it in Latin America Los Tres Reyes Magos
. I wrote about my personal relevance to the Epiphany here
Even though I was 11 years old at my last Argentine Tres Reyes, the lazy and hot summer days and my being sent to some remote "camp" (as Anglo Argentines call the campo
) , a place with a smooth, uninterrupted horizon and being forced (a good thing even though I was not aware then) to learn to make friends with people I had never met before.
The melting snow outside cannot cool the feeling of warmth and nostalgia that I have for the Epiphany and the terrible (then) gifts of useless wooden toys that Eva Perón gave us on that day when all I wanted was an Erector set or an electric train.
Part of the allure is in the Spanish meaning of mago
. A mago in Spanish is a magician. The three wise kings, los tres reyes magos, were magicians to us. All was possible if they intervened. I thought then that the little box of myrrh probably also contained a pristine white rabbit ready to jump out and delight the precocious newborn in that stable crib.
And of course that melancholy is further increased by having to remove the ornaments from the tree which we traditionally perform tomorrow. It's been up for what seems
only a few days. But the tree has become my friend. Every time I come into the living room to write my blog I can smell with delight the scent of my Pseudotsuga menziesii
or Douglas Fir.
But some of that melancholy has vanished as I found this picture which was our Christmas card for 1981. I took the picture in our Burnaby basement in November 1981 so Hilary (below, right) was 9 and Ale was 13. Our basement had a very low ceiling so I was forced to use a wide angle lens which made people in front look bigger than those in the front. That the whole family was present for Christmas Eve dinner 27 years later has to be something that even makes this melancholy man smile, if only for a short while.
Las Hermanas En Los Vestiditos Negros
Monday, January 05, 2009
I faced these four lovely sisters only once and I barely rose to the occasion with these snapshots. Since then I regret not having put more effort into the opportunity. I have discovered a beautiful essay on the little black dress in a blog from Oviedo Spain (sadly now gone). It is in Spanish, alas! One expression caught my eye, El Ford de Chanel
which is all on how Ford's Model T came only in basic black. Any essay on the little black dress that mentions Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly already has something going for it!
Two of the young girls are my friend Nora Patrich's daughters the other two are Linda Lorenzo and her sister. Nora kept talking about some obscure tango which cited the names of four girls.
Billiken, Potential Energy & Kanfer's Brando
Sunday, January 04, 2009
This is publisher Faber & Faber's short biography of writer Stefan Kanfer:Stefan Kanfer
Stefan Kanfer’s books include The Eighth Sin, A Summer World, The Last Empire, Serious Business, Groucho, Ball of Fire and Stardust Lost. He was a writer and editor at Time for more than twenty years and was their first bylined film critic, a post he held from 1967 until 1972. A Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and recipient of numerous writing awards, Kanfer is currently in the Distinguished Writer Program at Southampton College, Long Island University. He divides his time between New York and Cape Cod.
There are numerous reviews of Kanfer's latest book, a biography of Marlon Brando called Somebody - The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando.
I will probably buy it as I have been very close to Stefan Kanfer even though I have never met him nor communicated with him.
It was around 1964 that I discovered Time Magazine. I was young and not cynical. I had yet to hear, "Life Magazine for the people who cannot read - Time Magazine for the people who cannot read." I did not yet know on how newspapers and magazines could bend the truth. I had been a little boy around 8 when I had some doubts about the existence of Santa Claus. When I saw a picture of St Nicholas Bishop of Myra in the Argentine children's magazine Billiken
saying he was Santa Claus my doubts about his existence were erased. If Billiken said he existed he must exist.
While in Argentina in the middle 60s I made it a point to read Time every week. Every once in a while I would not be able to find it. This usually happened when some Argentine general did not like what Time had said about the military government. It was around 1965 that I remember sitting in a park bench of the Buenos Aires zoo that I read a wonderful film review. It was credited to a Stefan Kanfer. I soon found myself being able to identify the man's style in the first sentence of any paragraph of any essay Kanfer wrote. It was with Kanfer that I first discovered that there was such a thing as literary style. Through the years I have discovered the inimitable Jerome Charyn
in English and José Saramago
in Spanish translated from the Portuguese. I love reading Maureen Dowd in the NY Times as she shares a stylistic flair with Charyn. While reading the review of Kanfer's new book on Marlon Brando in today's NY Times I spotted this:On the night "A Streetcar Named Desire" opened on Broadway, Tennessee Williams sent his young leading man a rapturous telegram: "From the greasy Polack you will someday arrive at the gloomy Dane for you have something that makes the theater a world of great possibilities."
Looking back at that statement, Brando's line in On The Waterfront
as Terry the washed up boxer:You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley
has a special resonance as Brando's path towards Shakespeare never went past his role as Marc Anthony.
All that brings me to the theme of today's latish blog (a difference of opinion with my web server, Net Nation made them pull the plug for almost a day) which is all about the strange and wonderful topic of potential energy. A block of wood sitting without movement on a table has the potential of moving should a rapid wind suddenly come on the scene. Or it could be something as simple as tilting the table and then the block would be freed of some of the friction and gravity and perhaps slide downward a bit. Or magic could suddenly remove the table and gravitational pull would make the block fall. There is even energy stored in the block of wood in the form of the heat it could provide if we were to throw it into a small fire.
Kinetic energy is physics’ way of defining the potential of everything that surrounds us and even ourselves. I think of potential energy when I think of my mother receiving a scholarship to study in the medical school of Johns Hopkins and not being able to take advantage because even though she had been born in Manila under American occupation she was deemed an alien Asian and barred from entering the US as a student. I think of my own potential as an engineer had I figured out the difference between capacitance and inductance before failing electricity.
Somehow because of not being able to go to Johns Hopkins my mother went to Argentina and married my father and I am here writing this.
I almost despair at the fact that my Rebecca was offered a full scholarship to attend a very good dance school but her parents turned it down. They don't want Rebecca to be a ballerina or a dancer. What potential is in this little 11 year old girl? Will I be around to see it realized?
I don't know except to note that potential energy, potential human energy, keeps our dreams alive and our will to live.
Letting Go Of Rebecca While Not Telling All
Saturday, January 03, 2009
I last saw Lee Lytton when we both graduated from St Ed's High School in 196l. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally located him and the emails have been going back and forth fast and furious. In his last email Lee wrote this:I'm still trying to patch together some things about your early history so that I can fit what I remember about you from almost 50 years ago into my recollections. I hope I'm not getting too personal, but I'm operating under the assumption that since your blogs are remarkably uninhibited and about as open a window into your past as I can imagine, you don't mind filling in a few more gaps.
January 20th will mark the third year that I have posted a blog every day. At first I had no idea what blogging was all about. It took a while to figure out the mechanics of fitting pictures with copy. It was my eldest daughter Ale (40) who about a year and a half ago told me, "Papi I was sometimes afraid to ask you about your past and our family. Now, thanks to your blog it is all there." I really appreciated that as it gave me at least one goal. It is a goal that is similar to Rosemary asking my mother to write in white ink under the old photographs of our family albums. They are pasted with black corners on black paper. My mother's neat handwriting (a nun's school in Manila) will keep the people in the pictures alive for a few more generations until distance takes its toll and memory fades.
This blog which is part of Blogger (purchased by Google some years ago) means that when people that I mention Google themselves, more often than not they find me. And this is how I find them. My blog has helped me as well as Lee to fit gaps in my memory of the people that have passed through my life. These people remind me of the experience of leaving in a train from Retiro Station in Buenos Aires. Sometimes our train left the platform as the same time as another. Both would follow parallel tracks but sooner or later one would give way or we would reach a fork where each train would bifurcate in an opposite direction. Lee and I were together for four years but we weren't really friends. I was much younger for my years while Lee was less shy and as soon as he got rid of his thick glasses he became popular with the girls. I had my glasses for the duration and I preceded the computer geeks in looks even though my interest lay in 4inch reflector telescopes and photographs of Lokheed F-104 Starfighters. But I do remember being in the back seat of Lee's 56 or 57 convertible Chevy in our last year. It was a thrill. To me Lee was the type who would write essays about women, cocktails and style for Esquire. That was not the case as he decided to become a prestigious professor of law.
I am a bit taken aback by Lee's statement, "your blogs are remarkably uninhibited and about as open a window into your past as I can imagine..." His statement will not prevent me from trying to answer all his questions. But it does make me think that if Lee and I played poker I would lose my shirt in no time. These West Texans can keep their cards real close to their chest. Perhaps he is right. My wife Rosemary does not have an have an opinion as she has made it a point not to read my blogs. The only one who has protested about my candid approach has been Rebecca who says I reveal all her faults to the world. She says I embarrass her all the time, and has stictly prohibited me from telling anybody, especially in this blog that she is interested in boys and in one in particular. So I will avoid that subject.
But it really has been Rebecca and my relationship with her as her grandfather and friend who has been the focus of most of my thoughts here.
Of late it has been all about my sadness of seeing her grow up and becoming far less moldable to my wishes. She is becoming literally her own woman at 11. Just two days ago she informed that she will no longer "mope" for any of the pictures I take of her. She plans to smile.
Today Lauren (6) spent the day with us and is sleeping over. Rosemary read to her. We had a leasurely dinner. At the table she said, "It is nice not to have Rebecca with us now. She is not shouting at you Papi. It is quiet." Perhaps it is time to let go, just a bit, of Rebecca and take advantage while Lauren is still some years away from the distraction of boys, iPods and video games.
But I will not forget nor can I forget that without Rebecca in my life my blog would have never gone past a few months. Thank you.
Flinging Monkeys & Linearity Bites The Dust
Friday, January 02, 2009
Warning. A good measure of pontification follows.
The last days between Christmas and New Year's have always been lazy days of introspection and reflection. At this time, time, more than ever before in my life, I have been thinking about how our changing times are not ordinary changing times.
In the 50s and 60s American cars thrived on the idea that one year's model would be completely different from a previous year's. Inside, most of these cars were all the same. The technology was simple, almost crude. Newness was associated with the shape of grills and the height of a tail fin. I read ads about the "all new" 2009 Audi A-4 and noted that the outside is not all that different from our own two year old Audi A-4. Chances are, that mechanically our car and the new one are very different under that pretty Germanic skin of steel.
At one time cars were vehicles that took one and perhaps a few more from point A to point B. Versions of it were used for killing as was the WWI tank or a WWII Jeep with a mounted .50 caliber machine gun. I remember so well a copy of a 1943 Life Magazine that featured an ad for Buick that read, "Our Sherman tank features a Buick Dynaflow transmission."
During this time telephones were for communication between considerable distances or from one side of a city to another. Typewriters were for typing novels, personal letters, job applications, recording births and deaths or sending you to jail for an eventual and terminal execution (if you happened to be a murderer).
That period of our world (slowly breaking up now) had been determined really by one man, Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. His bible and the printed books that followed established an order of things related to a beginning and an end. This linearity brought into being the preface, the index, the bibliography and footnotes. To this day some Spanish (who have their own idea of linearity) books have the índice at the end!
This linearity has also imposed a logic that things have a purpose and one purpose only. A hammer might be used for hammering nails, for removing them and in a pinch (if carefully wrapped in a rag) to firm up a rickety chair. The screwdriver is used for tightening and loosening screws. But it doesn't take too much imagination to think that the screwdriver could be used for making holes in a spring garden and to drop seeds in them.
It took precocious teen agers (as soon as they could borrow dad's) that cars could be used for the privacy of illicit sex. It didn't take long for bank robbers to realize that a car was a far better method of getting away from the bank than a horse.
For me the two most important events of the 20th century were the contraceptive pill and the photograph of our earth hovering on the horizon of the moon taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in 1968. At last we could point down and say, "We are from there." And the former, the pill, more than the "death of God" did away with most of the morality and the imposed shackling of women in their quarters which is central to just about every religion.
Perhaps in this century the breaking up of linearity will be the most important event. An inkling of this came with Argentine author Julio Cortázar's 1963 novel Rayuela (Hopscotch)
which could be read logically from beginning to end but the author also had some non linear suggestions that involved skipping chapters randomly. I would predict here without any doubt that in an extremely near future the Amazon Kindle will feature not only an on line dictionary but also hypertext. This means that a Scheherazade of the future will be able to keep her Persian king interested far more than those one thousand and one nights. In a soon-to-be released science fiction version of this book by Chip Gibson, the story will never end and will only be able to be published by Borges's infinite library.
All the above blabber came to mind today after going to a new year's day at home at a friend's house. My friend does undisclosed work (not secret simply way over my head) at Sun Microsystems. Many of his guests were software engineers. One of them, Philip, had been a physicist before until he (a very smart man) saw were things were going to. "Physics and most of the sciences need funding," and it was obvious Philip was not going to wait or depend on that to promote his career.
He asked me if I remembered the old and primitive word processors. I told him I still had one although Word and my PC have replaced my Smith Corona PWP 40. "The problem with that device, is that its creators were still stuck on the idea of a typewriter and the little screen (about 3 inches wide). Phillip then ended the conversation with the buzz expression, "The end product has to be optimized."
Another of the cyber engineers told me that he no longer considered himself a programmer as he found it frustrating that most programs required more than one thousand words to work. "I am looking for an under 1000 word solution." Then while he was talking to someone else I heard him say, "A cathedral."
Most of those Gothic cathedrals were built before Gutenberg. The secret as to how they were built was not written down but lay in the minds of the masons who built them. The secrets were passed from one generation of masons to the next. As soon as engineering, architecture, law and medicine became a science the secrets could only be seen and understood in colleges and universities. Along with musicians who could read music these arts and professions became understandable only by those with the intellect to study. The rest of us were left out. The Masonic order now includes those cyber engineers that enable us to live our life, or not, with programs that they alone understand but programs we must absolutely must have.
Many of these programs are applications, a new buzzword that is now shortened to apps. Consider that since July Apple has posted more than 10,000 programs to its App Store. The most popular of them (it costs $0.99) lets the phone simulate the sound of flatulence.
While I believe that the real inventor of multitasking is old-fashioned Man, I can see that idea that a screwdriver could be used to plant seeds is about as primitive and idea as telling Alexander Graham Bell that his invention would enable people to talk to each other, nothing less and nothing more. If I told them that there is also an app called Sapus Tongue in which the user swings the phone to see how far he can fling an animated monkey on the screen he would probably change the subject to, "Who's that gorgeous woman at the Smith Corona PWP 40?"
My Audiovox Model CDM-8100PPP phone will not fling monkeys nor produce artificial flatulence. It is capable of getting and sending email but I have never bothered to use that feature. I use my Audiovox to talk to people.
And even more
And more again
And a bit more
And the last one
An Uncircumcised Heathen - An Epiphany
Thursday, January 01, 2009
I have written here before of my Filipino heritage. My mother was born in Manila. Some of our relatives are Filipino/Chinese with the surname Roxas. One of them, Manuel Roxas was the first president of the Philippines in 1946. My grandmother would often talk to my mother in Tagalog in my presence when I was a little boy to keep their conversations private. They knew I had a keen ear. By some osmosis of sorts I managed to learn some Tagalog and in particular the words that are useful.
In Vancouver we are lucky to have the Goldilocks
bakery (Broadway at Fir) which features not only Filipino breads, cakes, desserts and food but such wonderful stuff as Magnolia macapuno
ice cream. This is a coconut ice cream made from a sport of the coconut palm (some say it is a disease) harvested, primarily in the Philippines. They are sold in jars as "gelatinous mutant coconut" cut into balls or strands. In a macapuno
coconut the water and the meat do not separate and they are one gelatinous mass. These coconuts are thrown away just about anywhere else. I have prevented Mexicans boys serving me an ice cold coconut at beaches in Acapulco, Veracruz and Isla Mujeres from throwing my chosen fruit away when they saw the nasty looking gelatin inside. It is delicious. My uncle Don Luís Miranda
who worked for San Miguel Beer and Magnolia created the macapuno ice cream flavour. It is straight from heaven.
At Goldilocks I like to purchase Filipino shortbread called polvorones
and a wonderful puffy bread called ensaymadas (from Spain via the Philippines). At Goldilocks the procedure is to place your order on a small sheet of paper with a small pencil that is provided (did Lee Valley copy them?). When I first started going to Goldilocks I would write Suput
as my name. When my paper was picked there was a lot of stammering and or silence involved when the women behind the counters (they wear hair nets) tried to figure out who was the male of the species responsible for the joke.
In late 1967, shortly before I married Rosemary, I lived in Mexico City with an urbane Filipino, Raúl Guerrero Montemayor
(first cousin to Ivette Mimiuex). Raúl is godfather to my youngest daughter Hilary. One of Raúl's friends, Nonong, was the playboyish son of Manuel L Quezon the first Filipino president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines under U.S. occupation rule in the early period of the 20th century. We became friends and he gave me the nickname of Suput. Even my eldest daughter's godfather, my Yorkshire-born friend Andrew Taylor calls me by that nickname to this day.
Now in Tagalog suput
means literally tight but it also means uncircumcised. In a country that has been mostly Catholiic since Magellan but also Muslim, to be suput
is to be unclean. It is a serious Filipino insult. You can imagine what goes through the minds of the Filipina women with their hairnets when they see my nickname. They know me now so they just giggle when they see me and ask me what I want. They have another nickname for me, Andong
, which is a much cleaner and it is a re-working of Alexander.
Since I was raised as a Catholic and I went to a very good Catholic school
, St. Edward's in Austin, Texas I know that today is the Feast of the Circumcision. It is a feast that is fairly low in the order of Catholic feasts. A much more important feast is the one that falls on January 6. At the Epiphany, the visit by the Magi on the infant Jesus has a tremendous symbolic and religious importance. God had made an exclusive contract with the Israelites of the Old Testament. By the simple act of having the Magi (no matter how regal they might have been they were still unclean, uncircumcised heathens) visit the manger it represented a new order of things, the New Testament. Not only the Israelites but all baptized mankind (the males could be either circumcised or not) now had the opportunity to sit on the right hand of God in heaven.
The heathen above is a self portrait taken mid December 2008 with b+w Polaroid.