A Beautiful Day In Richmond
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Today Rosemary, the two girls and I went to swim at Paul Leisz’s pool in Richmond. We took some gnocchi pre-cooked with a tomato and cream sauce ready for the oven so that the Parmesan would brown. Rosemary prepared a fresh salad and I made a mango smoothie/slush. Paul fired up his barbecue and he grilled smokies, baby back ribs and red peppers. For dessert we had ice cream. Amy, Paul’s partner washed dishes and Rosemary felt guilty. I didn’t as I particularly like going to someone else’s house for dinner so that I don’t wash the dishes or have to worry about serving food.
Rebecca had a great time in the pool. Unlike the public pool we went to last Saturday in this one she was able to swim. I notice that she swims beautifully. I believe she has inherited from my mother who was an excellent swimmer.
Rosemary questions a little girl (Lauren, 7) in having to use a safety floating vest. The fact is that Lauren successfully shed it today and I was proud to see that she was not afraid of the water at all. I decided not to dunk her so that kept everybody peaceful and quiet.
At the patio table Rebecca said that it had been a perfect afternoon. She had had a good swim and the food was good. Now she was going to read and she liked reading. She corrected and said, “I love to read.”
All in all it was a pleasant day at the Leisz’s and as we drove home with the sunset on the Western sky I thought to myself on how lucky I was. I have known Paul since I first came to Vancouver in 1975 and I relish at having a friend for such a long time.
The pictures you see here were all taken by Paul with his Canon DSLR. Should I?
The Mad Hatter Would Understand
Friday, July 10, 2009
Saturday, June 27 was Lauren’s 7th birthday. Many years ago I used to snap pictures of both of our daughter’s birthdays and the pictures rarely appeared in any of the photo albums. From the moment I started shooting colour slide or negative the pictures ended up in files. Previously I had printed the b+w negatives with regularity and Rosemary had put them in the three photo albums we have. We have one for Rosemary and me and two separate ones, one for Ale and the other for Hilary. By the time we got to Vancouver in 1975 the photos started piling up in boxes instead of the albums. Alas a project that we never finished.
In many respects this blog is a photo album and I can record here the special moments and achievements of my family.
Lauren was a precociously slow baby. It was evident she did not want to walk so she didn’t walk. She didn’t talk because she didn’t want to. The day Lauren did talk Hilary called us and repeated a variation of that famous line about Garbo, in this case, “Lauren, talks.”
My family has been unhappy in my persistence in taking pictures of Rebecca always serious. About a year ago, because she had been told about this, Rebecca said to me, “I want to smile when you take my picture.” I let her do this but I always asked her to be serious for a couple. Invariably it is the serious one that is the better picture. Is smiling well something that takes time? Can it be possible that when we grow up smiling is a lot easier than crying?
When we sit at the table for lunch and dinner on Saturdays (this is when Lauren and Rebecca usually visit us) Lauren stares at me from the other side of the table. I love that stare. She looks at me in precisely the way she looked at my camera when I photographed her on her birthday. The second picture, a most inferior one in my opinion, would probably please the adults of my life.
The Roma Of Vancouver
Thursday, July 09, 2009
In January of 1997 Hadani Ditmars wrote an article for the Georgia Straight on the trials and tribulations of the small Roma community of Vancouver. I had the difficult task of taking the pictures. It was a difficult task for two reasons. For one, few of the gypsies on Ditmars’ list wanted to be photographed. I had to persuade them gently and I was able, in the end to photograph most of them including the family group which was in Vancouver applying for refugee status.
Bands of gypsies would occasionally come down my street when I was a child in Buenos Aires. They would ring our bells and offer to read our fortunes. As soon as we spotted the women with their ankle length dresses and colourful bandanas we would scurry inside the house. We had been warned by our mothers that gypsies robbed children. I was extremely afraid of them. Such was the power of prejudice.
Alas I have no copy of that Straight so I cannot properly identify the people here. One of them, the sad man with his right hand by his heart was Lolo, a well known flamenco singer at the Kino Café. I remember going there to photograph him. At that time smoking was permitted and the Kino was one of the smokiest joints in town. The sad woman looking down on the left is Julia Lovell.
I allowed my subjects to look into my camera and I did not give them much instruction. Yet most of them stared into my camera with what seemed an agony of suffering, many centuries long. Even when they smiled they smiled sadly. I am sorry that I cannot further dignify them with their name. On the other hand they overflow with it, dignity.
The Anguish Of Lavender
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
I have written here before on how I rarely listen to my music CDs and records. One of the advantages of increasing old age is that I hear them in my head. The little music I listen to is always live music at a concert. When possible I want that music to be baroque. When I drive to Lillooet with Rosemary and the two granddaughters I carefully choose the music. I don’t want to scare them with strange selections but I want to make them curious. In this way Rebecca has discovered Gerry Mulligan, Bach, Vivaldi, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Oscar Peterson and a beautiful tango CD with a quartet with Daniel Barenboim on the piano. Rebecca knows that Barenboim was married to Jacqueline du Pré. Thanks to Emily Molnar
Rebecca has a fondness for the solo piano sonatas of Philip Glass. We try not to play them on the way to Lillooet because Glass makes Rosemary nervous.
The music that I play for Rebecca (and eventually for Lauren when she shows more interest) is music that I can conjure with my virtual ears. I need not put the CD into the player to know what the music is like. Only yesterday I watched 20 minutes of one of the finest comedy scenes in all of film. This happens when Stewart Granger has to impersonate a clown (Scaramouche) to escape the nasty French cavalry captain that is after him. He manages to escape the captain to fall in the clutches and arms of the gorgeous flamed-haired Eleanor Parker. In those 20 minutes I realized I knew all the lines and that I can re-run the whole film in my head with Granger’s sonorous voice. I can imagine the pleasure of gazing on Parker’s many freckles beneath her Hollywood pancake makeup.
And so it is with smells. I can smell a sweet pea once every five years and that is enough to keep the “flame” alive in my memory. As I walked in today through my front gate after a tough day at photography school, I noticed a long row of Lavandula angustifolia
. This is the most common and easiest lavender to grow in Vancouver. The trick is never to let it grow too woody. If you brutally prune it in early spring it comes back fresh every time. I did not stop to smell it.
Lavender with hints of Player’s Navy Cut and Old Smuggler Scotch (the Scotch that used to be made in Argentina long before the Japanese decided to make their Suntori Scotch) is what I could detect when I approached my father in his tweed jackets. When he kissed me I could smell the lavender which must have been Lavanda Inglesa Yardley since this brand was sold throughout Latin America. Hilary buys me a large container of Yardley Lavender talc and a carton of four soaps every couple of Christmases. Both she and Rosemary always have large supplies of Lavender bath salts for me.
I have never told them that my attraction to lavender has all to do with that tiny part of me that is still English. It is that tiny part that makes it imperative that I begin my day with an extremely strong and extremely large mug of tea made with the finest tea leaves I can purchase. It is this English in me that had me straddling the fence when the British fleet was steaming toward the Falklands and the Hand of God vanquished the British soccer team.
My father spoke English like an Englishman even though he had been born in Buenos Aires. His father Harry was from Manchester and so was his mother Ellen Carter. Because of my father I was called el inglesito
(the little English boy) by our neighbours. Because of my father, lavender, Player’s Navy Cut tobacco and that hint of scotch is a smell that I cannot ever remove from my psyche.
It was my mother who often told me (she didn’t much praise me) that I had the pleasant smell of an Englishman. I never questioned her since I didn’t smoke Player’s Navy Cuts or drink Scotch. But I threw in the towel and adopted lavender as part of my life even if I don’t (and I don’t ) splash it on as my father must have. My mother used to hug me and smell me behind the ears. “Olés como un ingles,” she would say to me. She told me that Eskimos (she had no inkling of the existence of the Inuit) never kissed but rubbed noses and smelt each other. She said this was far more civilized. She explained how the civilized French had invented exquisite perfumes to hide the hideous smell that all the French had as part of their nature. My mother, while born in Manila, did always like her things English and therefore looked down on the French. She not only thought my father was handsome but she would cite other English men on her list of favouritee, actors like Ronald Colman, Herbert Marshall and her favourite of favourites, Leslie Howard. And, yes, Stewart Granger.
When I married Rosemary in Mexico City and then told my mother that she would soon be a grandmother she made it a point to insist, “Make sure that the baby is born at the American, British Cawdry Hospital. That made me smile. While in the clutches of the Argentine Navy I found various ways of thwarting my superiors’ demands that I be at my post at a certain hour and that I must report to work Monday through Friday.
On my way to my post I would arrive at the imposingly British train station Retiro (not really a replica as the British themselves had engineered it and brought the materials for it) in the 8:37 train from Tigre. The British loved to have trains arrive exactly on time at odd numbered minutes! I would then go to the station master (very Argentine in spite of his very British uniform) and explain what I needed. After a while I did not have to explain and he would hand me the sheet with his official stamp and signature. I didn’t abuse this trick too often as I could have gotten caught. The document in question stated that the train had been delayed by a derailment and had arrived at Retiro one hour late. This gave me time to go to the venerable Retiro restaurant and tea shop. It was and is beautifully wainscoted and the windows all have beveled edges and the chandeliers are all of cut glass. I would then order from the properly dress waiter a café con leche
with medias lunas de grasa
(exquisite croissants made from lard and which are extraordinarily chewy) which I would dunk in my coffee after slathering them with Argentine unsalted butter and strawberry jam. The Teniente at the office would look at my Retiro certificate and say, "This country went to hell when the English left. Now even the trains don't arrive on time."
The other “trick” was to donate blood. The Naval Book of Military Regulations stipulated that the naval conscript who donated blood could have the next day as a holiday if the proper certificate were shown. In the afternoon of a Thursday (as a perfect example on how well this trick worked) I would go to the British Hospital to donate blood. After looking away during the process ( I faint at the slightest hint of the shiny red stuff) I was told to rest for a while and then I would be served a “té completo”. This was tea, sandwiches and scones with marmelade and clotted cream. With certificate in hand I would go back to my office and hand the document to Cabo Moraña. He was a corporal in the Argentine Marine Corps who appreciated my tricks as long as I didn’t go over his head. And I would then enjoy a three-day weekend.
The folks at the British Hospital served me well even though they restricted my blood donations to every two months.
Somehow as I walked by the lavender today I wondered why it is called angustifolia
. In Latin this means narrow-leaved. That is correct as the leaves of this lavender are particularly long and narrow. But I also think of the Spanish word angustia
(or anguish) and wonder if the Latin root is the same. A check with my on line Royal Spanish Dictionary confirms it. A tight space or situation produces anguish. In order to keep that memory of my father alive I just need to have Lavandula angustifolia
near at hand. I don’t have to smell it. It is enough to know that it is there. And so is my father. That is comforting.
Long Live The Queen
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
No hay mal que por bien no venga
Bad stuff happens so good things can, too.
It was with pleasure that I read today in my Vancouver Sun that dancer/choreographer Emily Molnar has been named interim artistic director for Ballet BC.
There is no doubt in my mind that John Alleyne’s tenure as artistic director was a positive one for Ballet BC. When he first started I remember seeing an old-fashioned ballet that featured May pole dancing! At the time the audience was made up (more than now, I believe) of conservative old ladies who just loved their Giselles, Nutcrackers and anything else by Tchaikovsky. Slowly (but fast enough for me) without those little old ladies noticing it, Alleyne got rid of the May poles and incorporated the avant-garde choreography of former Frankfurt Ballet director William Forsythe adn wonderful stuff by National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director James Kudelka
. Alleyne himself brought in his own choreography. A lot of it had as its cornerstone the dancer Emily Molnar whom he had lured home from Ballet Frankfurt in 1998.
When Molnar (she is striking at 5 ft 11in) entered my studio for her first picture in 1998 she quietly sat in a corner in a fetal position for 10 minutes before facing my camera. Since then, thanks to Molnar, and the performances of some of William Forsythe’s works by Ballet BC I have come not only to appreciate why Forsythe’s choreography and his company were rated about best in the world but also why Molnar can talk physics. Asked on how he pushes the boundaries of the form of dance Forsythe once said, “I don’t think so much of the body when we are doing this. We are thinking about ‘the thinking body’ or we’re trying to understand how the body thinks about its own presence.” Or the way the ever-succinct Molnar put it to me, “Dance requires the entire body and the mind.” And she ventured into Einsteinian ephemera when she discussed space, time and movement in my studio (with her former Frankfurt Ballet soul mate Crystal Pite, note picture here).
The shortest definition of relativistic movement I have ever heard came from Molnar and Pite. Molnar said, “Movement is the observer.” This means that from a position of rest we the observers can discern the movement of a dancer on stage. Of time Pite said, “The ephemeral of dance exists only in the present movement. We are left with traces of movements that are gone as they are being created. As we carve space with our bodies they leave a ghost, the trail which affects our future moves and informs the observer of our past moves.” I then understood that those past moves are much like the contrails that high-flying jets leave in the sky.
Molnar has her own company, Emily Molnar Dance
. When possible I have attended whatever performance of hers I can find. More often than not she is busy choreographing for companies in Europe and New York. I sometimes catch her rehearsing the senior dancers at Arts Umbrella on Saturdays. Her principal role performances for several of John Alleyne’s full-length works included The Faerie Queen and Scheherazade linger in my memory. On the rehearsal of the latter Rebecca first noticed her and insisted on meeting her. It was in Molnar’s solo performance of Speak choreographed for her by Margie Gillis that I finally fell hard for her. I had to photograph Molnar for the Straight so she offered to go through the whole performance (just for me!) so I could pick a dance move for the photograph (one of the pictures is the one here). In such close proximity I learned how strenuous dance really is, no matter how effortless a dancer makes it seem to be. I now sit in the front row for dance performances, as part of the rewards of watching dance is to be able to hear the dancers breathe.
Every time that I have been to a Molnar performance, Rebecca has had the opportunity to chat with her after. I have no idea what it is they talk about but some of these conversations are long. On several occasions Rebecca and I watched (from a window) Molnar’s master classes at the Arts Umbrella. Not long after Rebecca told me, “Let me show you some Molnar moves.” It was uncanny she seemed to be a little Emily Molnar! Rebecca had distilled some of the very moves that make Molnar a one of a kind in dance.
Having observed how Molnar handles children, teenagers and near adults at Arts Umbrella I can assert gracefully and reverently say of John Alleyne (as far as Ballet BC is concerned), “The king is dead, long live the queen!”
A new and exciting era is upon Ballet BC.My debt to Ballet BC
La Muchacha De La Cochinchina
Monday, July 06, 2009
My Sevillan grandmother would have said, “She has the map of Jerusalem on her face.” In retrospect I can see what drew me to Madeleine when I first spotted her face – the pale skin made even whiter by the contrast with her red lips – in the summer of 1985.
As a boy growing up in Mexico City, I would stare at the darkish faces yelling a strange archaic Spanish from the inside or the orange school bus that passed by every day. On its side was the enigmatic message “Colegio Hebreo Sefardita”. Ever since Sefardites, or Spanish Jews, have been a mixture of the exotic and the mysterious to me.
Madeleine’s face is a magician’s ball in which apparitions of the past hover and dance for me. In the deep shadows behind her eyes, I see the little girl peering out from the left corner of El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, hanging in the church of Santo Tomé in Toledo. In the noble lines of her cheekbones l see her ancestors praying in a tiny white synagogue in Granada. Nearby, in an ornate cathedral, lie the tiny lead caskets of the Catholic Kings who would exile them forever from Spain in 1492.
Madeleine was raised in Spain, and she always makes it a point to remind me of the source of her power over me in her throaty and impeccable Castilian. As I photographed her in her tub, she said, while carefully pulling down the top of her yellow and black ‘50s bathing suit, “I had to wear something, after all. It has to do with my Jewish sense of morality.”
Things have changed for Madeleine since I last photographed her in 1985. She now lives in Vietnam where she has somehow superseded her Jewish sense of morality. She writes:I live in exile in southern Vietnam, where I do my level best not to disgrace my family by staying as far away from them as possible. However, once a year or so, I just can't help myself; I make the trek back to England.
I live in a small house with a giant mango tree in the front yard and a cat called "Seven". In the back, I have a covered orchid garden, which I tend to with an obsession that most people would consider unhealthy. I find that orchid growing and sex have a great deal in common. I hold a masters in writing and am agonizing over a PhD. This has made me a good deal more critical about my own writing and, sadly, less productive.
Ron Basford, John Turner - Redux
Sunday, July 05, 2009
I do believe that there are no new ways of doing things. One just repeats what has been done before with minor personal modifications. At least this is what I try to impart to my photography school students. In the last month I have been looking back at some of my stuff and trying to put a handle on how one of my present students would have approached the same assignment had they been around with the difference of having a present day mentality.
Every time I go to Granville Island and I enjoy my cup of tea at Granville Island Tea Company I remember the one man singly responsible for making the Island the success it is. It was a Vancouver politician, Ron Basford, who was a cabinet minister for Pierre Trudeau in the 70s and I believe in the very early 80s. The fact is that when Mr. Basford was about to pose for me in his office for a Vancouver Magazine November 1982 cover we were interrupted by a phone call from Pierre.
When I had faced Basford earlier that day I was shocked to find he had no hair anywhere on his face, no eybrows, not eye lashes. I also notice his huge glasses (the problem of reflecting my light umbrella on it) and his shiny bald head. He also had a prominent double chin. I could not give art director Rick Staehling any excuses for any failure on this cover assignment and editor Malcolm Parry, a very good photographer himself, would not have shown any sympathy if I messed this one up.
I asked the receptionist if anybody in the office might have powder to dull the sheen on Basford’s head. Her negative reply made me sink even more in my depression with the indication that I was doomed. I happen to look at the coffee machine behind the receptionist’s desk and I noticed something. I picked the jar up and took it to Basford’s office. I decided to call the spade a spade and I asked Basford, “Sir can I use this Coffee Mate to take the shine off the top of your head? “ His answer was immediate, “If it will do the job, go right ahead.”
Two years later I was working on the photographs for a Vancouver Magazine article called Top Drawer. I told Mac Parry , “If this article is about the movers and shakers of Vancouver why don’t we put our Prime Minister on the cover? After all his riding is somewhere on the Sunshine Coast. He may not be from here but he has parachuted here and should be in our list.” Mac told me, “Get him.”
That became a nightmare. John Turner was prime minister but he had called elections and was running for the job as incumbent. His campaign manager (an extremely rude man) told me that Turner did not have time to pose for a city magazine as he was too busy shaking hands with his constituents. I explained that the cover with Turner on it would appear a week before the elections and it woul help at least in Vancouver to get him more votes. The campaign manager simply hung up.
Feeling desperate I had an idea. I called Ron Basford early one morning. In 1984 he was in Ottawa again. His secretary told me to wait a bit. Basford was on the line and I explained the problem. “Alex let me take care of it he said. What is your phone number?"
That evening I received a call from Turner’s office: “Mr. Turner will pose for you at the Hotel Vancouver tomorrow morning after his tennis practice.”
My blog has a most efficient built-in search engine. I searched to see if I had already written about Ron Basford. I had! But I will try to prove my point here that there is no new way of doing things. You just keep repeating them with slight variations! The original is here
. It is more elaborate as it includes Audrey Hepburn.