An Agave, The Fairy & The Comedy of Errors
Saturday, July 18, 2009
"Time is a very bankrupt, and owes more than he's worth to season.
Nay, he's a thief, too: have you not heard men say,
That time comes stealing on by night and day?"
(Act IV, Scene II), The Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare
Rebecca and I had an exciting time at Bard on the Beach
. We saw Shakespeare’s farce, The Comedy of Errors.
This version was happily over the top, complete with a bear, a cock, a couple of mechanical rats and roasted, skewered mice. To almost top all that there was Christopher Gaze in drag looking like Queen Elizabeth I. But what topped it all was Christopher Gaze, below with Rebecca, as a drunk whose face is rubbed into buxom (and pregnant) Emilia’s (Colleen Wheeler) chest. It was hilarious. Best of all it was a treat to watch Rebecca have a good time.
When we returned I made thin, crustless sandwiches (cucumber, egg salad, ham and cheese), and my in family famous iced tea. We had a guest, my Mexican photo student Gabriel Beltrán who wanted to see the photos on my walls. His favourite is the first one you see here of Rebecca when she was 7. I took it at Queen Elizabeth Park’s MacMillan Bloedel Conservatory.
Four years before I had photographed Rebecca in my studio dressed as a fairy. For a long time the fairy photo was one of my favourites. I had nothing to compare it with. She looked cute and adorable. Now as I look back I see the emptiness (her potential all hidden beneath) of the little girl, too young to really have a complex personality. That complexity and that sadness of growing up shows by the time she was 7 in that photo by the Mexican agave. Lauren is rapidly approaching that age. She is 7 now and I can see the seriousness in her demeanor when she asks me questions. I have to be ready to take that picture that straddles precariously between childhood and the lost innocence of adulthood.
The polyantha rose, Rosa
‘The Fairy’, 1932 Bentall, is a cute, little and almost procumbent rose that is a late bloomer. It started blooming this week with masses of little globular flowers that grow almost in deep shade and in poor soil. It is a survivor (alas, Rebecca’s died this last winter). As I saw it today, once Gabriel left, I went to look for the fairy picture of Rebecca. While I photographed Rebecca today in her beautiful little bikini there is still more of a shock value in the agave photograph.
A rosy, safe and pleasant nostalgia is what I feel when I think of the fairy. I cannot wait for Rebecca to grow up. First we must watch Beau Geste
together. Next a Shakespeare tragedy. The time is near.
Falstaff - Fat, Big & Red
Friday, July 17, 2009
Falstaff: If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh's lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins; but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company, banish not him thy Harry's company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world!
William Shakespeare, Henry IV, II, iv
I have to admit here ignorance on all things Falstaff. I have never seen or read Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 or 2 so I know nothing about Falstaff from those quarters. But I have read Harold Bloom's Shakespeare - The Invention of the Human
. It would seem that the time has come for me to correct this large vacant spot in my brain since Harold Bloom's favourite Shakespeare character happens to be Falstaff. And my Rebecca has fallen in love with the English Rose by that name. I obtained one for my garden this year but I overlooked buying one for Rebecca. I am trying to make amends in the best way I can. Tomorrow Rebecca and I will be going to Bard on the Beach to see The Comedy of Errors
. This will be Rebecca's first Shakespeare play. I am all excited and I hope that all the action under that tent and the real farce that this play is will serve as an entry into a more serious Shakespeare. Perhaps we will both explore Falstaff the man, and add him to our list of favourites.
The images here are what Rosa
'Falstaff' looked like today, fat, big and red.
That Recurring Leaky Tank Problem
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Ever since I can remember there was one word problem in school which I despised since no matter how they hid its core with words it was always a leaky tank problem. So much water (gallons per minute) is going into a tub that has no stopper. So much water is going out of it (gallons per hour). The question was always the same. Will the tub stabilize, empty or overflow?
This problem is one that hits us all in finances, in mortgage payments and just about everything else. It doesn’t take a computer spread sheet to tell me that if the money going into my monthly studio does not exceed the money going out I am going to have an empty tub very soon. And so I have decided to let go of my studio in the next few months.
I can rationalize that the little work that I do in it like lawyer or businessman web portraits I can do in their offices. All I need is a blank wall and to trudge over with my lighting equipment. Those Ministers of Parliament (NDP) that hire my services every once in a while since they know I can make them look honest, incisive and intelligent will have to pay extra for me to secure a day’s studio rental. I don’t see the problem there.
Rosemary saw this coming a few years ago but kept playing around with our money because she thought (rightly at the time) that a studio is part of a photographer’s pride of profession.
For a long time a big chunk of studio money came from my arts photos for the Georgia Straight. That has stopped as the publication has found the cheaper route of either demanding handout art or expecting it staff writers to take the pictures. I don’t see that publication suddenly turning around that mandate.
If there is anything of what I do that may suffer in not having my own studio, it is the personal work that I rely on to keep me on my toes and to keep at bay the tendency of age to deaden passion.
But the personal work now is either the studio portrait of my granddaughters or my work with the undraped human body. Cases in point are these pictures of Lisa Ha, a Vietnamese/Canadian subject of mine that sporadically frequents my studio. These I took a couple of weeks ago. I like to record the change of time. I may have last photographed her about 4 years ago. The next time will probably have to be in my living room or in my garden or in her apartment. I can assert that environmental photographs can have their charm, too.
Best of all I will take my grandmother’s advice to heart, “Nadie te quita lo bailado,” Nobody can take away from you the dances that you have danced.
A Nightmare Of Books
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I had a nightmare last night. It was a nightmare of books. When I woke I felt I had not slept. I get these obsessive dreams every once in a while and it seems to me that since I am partially conscious I have not slept well at all.
I believe that this blog is going to be a long and meandering one. It is really based on the idea that if you are near a very good library or you are living in one (Borges would approve from his great infinite library in the sky) you would not know the existence of certain books unless you found them or you knew they were there.
I read a lot but Rosemary absolutely refuses to buy me books for Christmas or my birthday. The only persons who have dared to present me with a book have been my eldest daughter Ale and her godfather Andrew Taylor. I don’t think that they have been entirely successful in their choices. I do believe that picking a book to read is something personal. An exception could be, to know that a friend reads all the novels of P.D. James
. You check your friend’s library and you don’t spot the latest James. You can then present the book as a gift. But there is something missing here. The paradox is that while that James book is the right one you are not going to help, push, force, reveal, surprise or even disappoint your friend with a book unknown until opened as the book from nowhere.
My aunt Dorothy Rowstron, who died in her 90s in Toronto a few years ago, was an avid reader. Somewhere along I got the wrong idea as to what she read. For Christmas, for her birthday I would send her the latest Danielle Steel novel by FedEx. She always called me to thank me. It was after her death that I discovered from her son-in-law that Aunt Dorothy
had an exquisite and refined taste for books and she would have never read Danielle Steel even if someone had pointed a gun at her. She was too gracious to tell me of my faux pas. Sept the illusion going until she died.
My 85 year-old first cousin (she is also my godmother) Inesita O’Reilly Kuker reads a lot. She lives in Buenos Aires. She reads in English even if her family does not. She has kept her Argentine private school English (Northlands and you have to pronounce the word with your nose up in the air!). She reads lofty stuff like the novels of Susan Howatch (Mystical Paths
happens to be in my library so I know why she likes the author). They are somewhat Graham Greenish
about religious men who have doubts about the canons of their faith.
For years book in English have been hard to find (particularly the ones Inesita's refined tastes would demand) and expensive. A pocket book fetches $30 US. Every time I have had the opportunity to go to Buenos Aires I take books for her. The last time one of the books was a beautiful illustrated biography of Grace Kelly. Before we flew to Buenos Aires Rosemary had left my suitcase open on the floor as she remembered stuff to put into it that would suddenly come to mind. Toby, her cat decided to mark his territory on the book. The morning before I left for Argentina I sprayed the book to no avail with all kinds of perfumes and disinfectants. I do believe that Inesita did read the book before she chucked it into the garbage. Books in English are that precious in Buenos Aires.
A few months ago Inesita fell outside her summer apartment in Punta del Este, Uruguay. She did not tell her family. When her son Georgito came to pick her up, he was shocked to see the black and blue marks on her face and her bloodshot eyes. He took her to the doctor who explained that Inesita had an eye hemorrhage orme and it would take her months to see well again.
When I found out I tried to get her family to rally and find her spoken books in the US (one of her grandsons travels). This was to no avail. They could not understand what it is to be a serious reader. Our first cousin Elizabeth Blew suggested I purchase a large-print Reader’s Digest subscription. I did not have the nerve to tell Elizabeth that Inesita would never ever read Reader’s Digest in small or large print!
The solution became a simple one. I have purchased some good CD books (all are unabridged) and copied them. I mail these to Inesita and mark the envelopes as picture CDs. All have arrived without being pilfered by the sometimes notorious Argentine postal system. I keep the originals in case the copies get lost. I can copy them again. I am probably breaking some copyright law but I feel that the circumstances give me some justification.
I have been sending Inesita novels by Daphne du Maurier. She is currently enjoying a Romeo and Juliet
with Kenneth Branagh
as Romeo and a great list of players including Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Derek Jacobi. While she initially found Frank McCourt
narrating his own Angela’s Ashes
a tad depressing she told me she enjoyed it in the end. What will she think of Neil Jordan's Shade
? Will she appreciate John Knowles's A Separate Peace
Enter Brother Edwin Reggio CSC who is a Catholic Brother of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Back in the late 50s he taught me religion, theology and nudged me (not gently) into learning to play the alto saxophone for the school band at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas. I have been with him of late (back two years ago with Rebecca and Rosemary when we passed by Austin, on our way to Mérida, Yucatán) and in June when I went to an all years school reunion. I took him two books as gifts. One was Toby Green’s Thomas More’s Magician – A Novel Account of Utopia in Mexico
and the other book Amir D. Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull – Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution and the Search for Peking Man.
The former book is about the most interesting Spanish/Mexican bishop, Vasco de Quiroga
who traveled to Mexico just a few years after the conquest. Of Chardin I wrote here
Brother Edwin thanked me for the books and in an e-mail mentioned he was reading it. But there was no comment that he liked it. Brother Edwin is a private man. I know he has two university degrees, one in math and the other in music. He is a photographer, a carpenter, a sculptor, he is the barber for his order, he has a job at St Edward’s University dealing with alumni affairs and all the drink and food machines on campus. He delivers the mail to the brothers, and makes the frames for all the photographs and painting in all the buildings on campus. He also feeds the squirrels. He loves to eat barbecue at that Austin institution, the County Line. He is an Olympic ring expert, he canoes and late in life learned to rappel. Besides the piano he can play any wind instrument. He is an expert trumpet player. I know so little about him.
A request to him to tell me what his reading habits were, resulted in a short mention that he did like mysteries. Does he like English mysteries or American serial killer mysteries? I don’t have a clue. He also did agree with me that it is handy to have the University library about a block away from his sleeping quarters. Brother Edwin suggested that if I wanted to get rid of my book collection that I should donate it to a school.
But is there something perverse in me trying to guess what he likes and to find books from my collection that I have read that I can share with a man that has been so important in my life?
Supposing he has enjoyed the book on Vasco de Quiroga I would surmise that the book is not part of the university library collection. He knows about the book because I knew about the book. It is that connection that fascinates me and kept me awake last night as I thought of all the books that might have some sort of mystical or religious content and yet be entertaining. Here are scans of some of the books that I re-read through the night. I would like to specifically point out Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote
. A not-to-smart small-town priest entertains a visiting bishop and feeds him a horse steak for lunch. The bishop is so marveled by the delicious offering that he sends Father Quixote a pair of purple socks and makes him a Monsignor. With the retired and most communist former town mayor, Sancho, the pair decides to drive around Spain in a Spanish Fiat a Seat and…
Perhaps as I send books that Brother Edwin likes or dislikes he just may not take my Aunt Dorothy’s tack of not telling me that he did not like a book. I look forward, if that is the case, to finally getting to knoe a man that has been an enigma to me since I first met him in 1958.
I wonder if the nightmare will continue tonight. I could dream about Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael mysteries or Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series. Brother Edwin might enjoy the taciturn Native American protagonists of Tony Hillerman or would he like all the novels I have about the American Civil War? Brother Edwin is from New Orleans - a jazz biography? Has he read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
? There is Brian Moore's Black Robe
. Then there is that novel about a pope, Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers
. On the other hand why do these books have to have a religious connection? And then...
Emma Peeles For Me
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
In 1967 my Argentine Merchant Marine Victory Ship, the ELMA Río Aguapey docked in New Orleans. It was December 24th. I was the only passenger. I had never spent Christmas away from my family. I felt a tad sad so I decided that the solution was to go and see a stripper on Bourbon Street. In hindsight this was a terrible idea. I walked on Bourbon Street and went into the first joint that advertised Girls! Girls! Girls! I ordered a Bourbon Whiskey figuring that was the drink that went with the territory. I sat in the front row and waited for the action. The action consisted of a fairly skinny woman who walked in, looking quite glum. She headed for a corner and plugged in a juke box. She moved to the music like a badly oiled robot. Her face was passive boredom. I left thinking, “Is this all there is?” I woke up Christmas day with a terrible hangover.
I had to wait until 1978 when I saw my first really good stripper. It was at the Drake Hotel and her name was Emma Peele but the patrons who frequented the place called her English Anna because of her thick Cockney. She was not much taller than 5 ft and she had black hair and large beautiful eyes that smile before she even began to smile. She was terrific. The New Orleans incident became a memory I soon forgot. I became a serious ecdyciast
. I had many faves
and the list changed every week. But I never forgot English Anna. She was from a slightly previous generation to the lovelies you see here posing for me in the Drake Hotel dressing room circa 1982.
Not too long ago Rosemary and I were enjoying chicken at my fave fast food place in Vancouver, Nando’s on 41st Avenue and East Boulevard in Kerrisdale. It began to get noisy. We could hear some women and their children talking in a raucous Cockney. Rosemary made us move to a quieter spot which happened to be near the exit of the restaurant. We enjoyed the last of our chicken. Then the loud group, two mothers and their daughters and sons passed by us. I recognized one of the mothers but I decided to be quiet. She might not want to be recognized. As she turned around the corner I changed my mind and shouted, “English Anna!” She turned around and with that smile of hers said, “How are you Alex? I want you to meet my son…” The young boy, around 12, seriously asked me (I thought he was going to punch me), “Why did you call my mom that?” I diplomatically answered, “Everybody who has ever met your mom calls her that. It is her accent, you know.”
Tamsin Gilbert & Her Two Poet Fathers
Monday, July 13, 2009
Tamsin, Born 7:10 a.m.i will write you poems for you
i will not
write poems for you
(what a wonderful morning
you are what
a wonderful morning you are)
when you were born
it was light
all was: the doctor’s white coat was
shining with your mother’s blood
her, my girl
this girl here
doing it all
to the least
& the morning
the most ordinary thing in the world
I took the above photograph to accompany Gilbert’s poem on his daughter Tamsin and both appeared in Vancouver Magazine, May 1986. I wrote about it here
Gerry Gilbert died
June 19, 2009 on the day of Tamsin’s birthday. Today I ran into Tamsin Gilbert at the Railway Club. She said, “Hi, Alex.” I stared at her even though the voice was the same and her hair was the same. I did not know who she was. She looked different. She looked different not because she was older (45 I think she told me she was) but because her face was softer. She was happier than she was when I photographed her for the second time (and the last time I saw her until today) in my former Yaletown studio on Hamilton Street (in 1986 I could afford to share a studio with a fashion photographer because Yaletown had yet to be discovered by yuppies. In 1986 I saw a resemblance between Tamsin Gilbert and Charlotte Rampling, see photograph below. Using the window lighting of my studio I tried to press Gilbert into that mold and I may have succeeded so well that I didn’t recognize today the real Tamsin Gilbert.
“Why are you in town, Tamsin,” I asked her. “To take Gerry with me,” she answered. She explained that her father had been cremated and she was taking his ashes home. Sometime in August a memorial service is planned and Tamsin Gilbert will spread Gerry’s ashes into the sea at Kitsilano.
Tamsin Gilbert is a much happier woman. I could discern contentment and peace in her face. When she was a baby her mother separated from Gerry and re-married poet John Newlove. At any given time in her life her father was always a poet. I wonder what is in store for Tamsin on her island home of Saltspring? One, who might be able to guess, is her daughter. After all her two grandfathers were poets and her name is Cassandra. And judging by Tamsin Gilbert’s face as I saw it today that future must surely be a rosy one.
Tracy & Gillian - Charmers They Are
Sunday, July 12, 2009
While deadheading roses today I watched my neighbours come in through the lane in their air-conditioned cars, hermetically sealed to the odors that might linger from nearby garbage bins and perhaps even afraid of breathing the air. The doors of the garage open and they drive in. There is a satisfying thud (for them I suppose) when the door slides down. Some of my neighbours’ houses are kept new and I sometime think that they could hose the interiors without affecting any of their furniture. It is all protected from the elements and even from the travails of time and oxidation. Life is clean and pure, hermetic, sanitized and safe.
I wonder what my neighbours would think of the other Vancouver that is past the lane. It is a Vancouver I have had few glimpses of in my years of working for a city magazine. I have known cops and hoods, pimps and prostitutes, murderers and rapists, coroners and judges and a few politicians thrown in. And I have met a few women whose specialty was to entertain men. Some were really good at it.
For many years I had an interest (it seems to be subsiding now) in the photography of the undraped female. Finding females to undrape is now no more difficult than finding models to not undrape. But years back in the dawn of Expo 86 it was tough. I developed a relationship with a few “directors” of stripper agencies. Through them I met some voluptuous women, some voluptuous women who were charming, and even some voluptuous women who were not only charming but delightful and ready to take it all off in a matter of seconds. Since I have always been the type of person who eases in slowly into a cold swimming pool my methods were sometimes at odds with these charmers who seemed to be in a hurry.
Every once in a while Ken would call me up and say, “Alex I have this new friend who is beautiful. You might find her interesting. I would make an arrangement to meet the interesting friend in my studio. Thanks to these charmers I honed my skills in glamour photography. I used experimental lighting methods and best of all I made some interesting friends. Here are two. The dark haired woman was called Gillian and the blonde was Tracy. The latter wore an S&M outfit that is beyond the boundaries of this blog so the two images of her here will do.
As I watched my neighbours in their spotlessly new vehicles I wonder if their entertainment ever goes beyond the micro thin layer of photons on a computer monitor or a flat-screen TV. There is a world out there that is not so clean, it may be seamy, but it is real. It has three dimensions. It has thickness. I would be flabergasted if they ever lowered their windows and asked me to smell my roses.
The girls are charmers, too.