An Affair To Remember
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Yesterday, Saturday (yes I am posting the Saturday blog today Sunday) was a day with lots of promise. But it did not end too well. It is my only excuse for calling it a night and postponing the posting to Sunday.
Ale helped Rosemary organize her closet and cleaned out her own closet from the days, so long ago, that she lived with us. That morning we had had extra thin pancakes with Ale, Lauren, Rebecca and Rosemary. Rebecca likes, butter, confectionary sugar and cinnamon on hers while the rest of us either used fruit syrups or plain sugar (that’s me). After the late breakfast Ale mentioned she needed new jeans that fit her and that she had not been able to find any. Rebecca pointed out her own purlple ( I question that colour) jeans had come from Urban Planet and that she should try the place. So we all went and I noticed racks and racks of clothing that looked like stuff that might end up at Value Village in a week or so. There was lots of grungy looking plaid stuff that suggests that Seattle Grunge is back. The music was mostly of the drum variety, sort of like disco without music. I was not quite at home. But I was delighted to see that Ale found three pairs of jeans that fit her. I was also happy to note she did not pick any of the purple ones.
Ale left for the memorial of a friend and from there she drove back to Lillooet. I went to Videomatica and chose Splash
and Watership Down
. When I returned Rebecca informed me loudly that if I had brought Beau Geste she was not going to see it under any circumstances, “I am still too young (12) for that movie and I don’t care if you saw it when you were 8.”
They enjoyed Splash
particularly as we devoured a large Brandywine heritage tomato served up with Maldon flaked salt. We had an angel hair pasta dinner with Hilary. Lauren adores angel hair. We watched Watership Down
which is still scary after all these years.
It was then that the evening became sour. We should have never brought up the subject of Rebecca quitting everything she has started
Not to mention her loss of interest in her digital camera. It seems that I will die with my own personal talent and cameras as company in the coffin.
Rebecca’s family insists that scholastics (school) are the single and most important aspect of her life. I believe that in this day and age high school barely guarantees a job at Macdonald’s. I keep remembering my new friend’s (Simon Ogden) dictum, “The world is not changing. It has changed.” It is a world in which more than ever what we did as children and what our expectations were as children do not apply. If you are 15 and you want to be gymnast, a ballet dancer, a tennis player, a swimmer, you are too old. The profession of journalist, as well as my own, magazine photographer, is obsolete.
Rosemary and I both agonize on what may happen to a little girl’s potential when that potential is not fostered. At the same time we realize that as grandparents we really don’t have much of a say. While I cannot convince my depressed Rosemary I live in the hope that my friend Abraham Rogatnick may be right in the end when he explained that the background and experience of taking Rebecca to Mexico, Argentina, Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas and her exposure to gardening, photography, good films, concerts, etc, will be a base that will remain and one day may serve as a stepping stone to a life of her satisfaction, whatever that might be.
Part of the problem is that Rebecca thinks that committing dance is committing to the life and profession of being a dancer. Committing to the piano is committing to the life and profession of being a pianist. We don’t see it that way. The piano is simply a excuse to learn to read music. Reading music is an exercise that exercises the mind in ways that we may not suspect on how useful they could be. Dance instills grace and an ability to get along with people at close quarters.
When I was 20 I made a list:
I did not know that a 6th could have been and ended up being photography. Time was kind to me. Will time be kind to Rebecca?
As I walked around with no clear goal this Sunday morning I happened to turn on the TV to channel 46 and I saw the last 20 minutes of Leo McCarey’s 1958 An Affair to Remember
with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. No matter how many times I have seen this film I am unable to hold back tears during its shameless tear jerking 10 minutes. And every time I see Deborah Kerr, with her red hair, “convalescing” on that sofa on Christmas day (or is it Christmas Eve?) I attempt to juggle with whom I would want to spend life on a desert island, Grace Kelly or Deborah Kerr?
Even when I remember that in 1985 I flew to London with Ale and Hilary and we met up with Rosemary who had gone to Europe on a buying trip for her boss from Mariposa. Rosemary and I went to see Deborah Kerr at the Old Vic. The play was The Corn is Green
. It was an awful play. With help of some booze we had had earlier in the day Kerr and The Corn is Green
put us to sleep. My image of Kerr was shattered. She looked like a grandmother. That was 1985.
Now it is 2009 and I am now a grandfather twice over. Rosemary is a grandmother, too. Rosemary does not look like the young blonde seen here with a couple of pigeons at Trafalgar Square. I have to be careful not to look down when people take my pictures. There is that double chin!
We had a little argument today. Rosemary thinks that if I bought a digital camera my business would boost up and I would be able to connect better with my students. I am unable to explain to her that I don’t teach the mechanics of taking pictures but something else. I am unable to explain that the initial expense in a digital camera would take perhaps a few years (how long will I be taking pictures? ) before the savings in buying and processing film would be matched by the savings of not using film.
But Rosemary did make an unsettling comment. “Perhaps if you had a digital camera you would go out and take pictures again. You would take more pictures.” Does Rosemary believe that with a new camera in hand I would somehow bring passion to my photography? Is she implying I have lost it?
There is a line, perhaps one of the last lines in An Affair to Remember
where Deborah Kerr (she cannot walk as she has had a tragic accident) tells Grant, “If you can paint I can walk.”
As I watched and heard this I remembered that Rosemary was above in bed not being able to walk. In a week she says she is going to try using a cane. “You have to buy me one, Alex.”
Does Rosemary know something I don’t know about photography? But I do know whom I would choose to spend the rest of my life on a desert island. It wouldn't be Grace Kelly or Deborah Kerr. It would be my own grandparenting partner and wife.
Friday, September 04, 2009
Montalbano and Valente seemed not even to have heard him, looking as if their minds where elsewhere. But in fact they were paying very close attention, like cats, keeping their eyes closed as if asleep, are actually counting the stars.
The Snack Thief, Andrea Camilleri 1996
The suave and handsome 6-foot-2 man in a herringbone jacket and striped tie who opened the door of his room at the Meridien Hotel (now the Sutton Place) on January 5, 1991 reacted to my stare by stating, “I played centre in my secondary school team.”
Genoa-born (in 1922) Italian actor Vittorio Gassman faced my camera. I was to wait as he had to create a character for my camera. He bent his head and closed his eyes. Ignoring an experienced film critic (my friend John Lekich) on asking actors about former spouses, I mentioned Shelley Winters. Gassman’s reaction was a scary stare and silence.
On January 6, 1991, the Vancouver Italian Community and a few others braved a snowstorm to attend Vittorio Gassman – In Words – A Recital of Theatre and Poetry
at the Vancouver Playhouse. The program consisted of mostly virtuoso monologues of Dante Alighieri, Cesare Pascarela, Franz Kafka, Pablo Neruda and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Also on the bill was Kean
, a work by Alexandre Dumas adapted by Jean Paul Sartre that was a revelation to those of us who knew only of Gassman’s Hollywood career in such movies as Robert Altman’s A Wedding
, Paul Mazursky’s Tempest
(with Molly Ringwald in her debut feature film!) and King Vidor’s War and Peace
, or even to those movie-goers who might have seen such Italian classics as Big Deal on Madonna Street
or Gassman’s 1975 best actor’s performance at Cannes for the original Scent of a Woman
. Few would have known that before making movies in Italy in 1946, he had performed in 40 plays since his professional debut in 1943.
While Gassman’s Italian and his French were mostly Greek to me, I found I understood a lot from his eloquent acting. It was appropriate that the man who popularized Shakespeare’s plays in Italy and Pirandello and Dante to the world ended the evening’s performance with Dante’s 31st Canto from the Inferno. Line 75 reads: “His very babbling testifies the wrong he did on earth: he is Nimrod, through whose evil mankind no longer speaks a common tongue.”
Even though Dante placed the Babylonian king in Hell, blaming him for Babel, it was Gassman, through his many films (124) and frequent international tours who championed the universal appeal of good theatre.
Gassman, who suffered chronic emphysema, bronchitis, high blookd pressure and depression, abandoned stage acting in February 2000. He died on June 29 of heart failure in Rome. He told his final audience, “Death does not obsess me – it disgusts me.”
Lauren & Rebecca's Slipping & Dancing Socks
Thursday, September 03, 2009
It wasn’t too bad a day. I went to the graduation of my DP5 students from Van Arts. I grew quite attached to them and I while I felt proud of them I felt sad I would not have them in class anymore.
Ale came to Vancouver for a few days so tonight Rosemary and I had our four girls for dinner. There was Ale, Hilary and our two daughters Rebecca and Lauren. After dinner the two girls went to the living room to play one of their favourite games. They put big band music on the CD player. The have some special sliding socks. Rebecca’s are Rosemary’s wool Christmas socks and Lauren has some pink and blue socks. The put them on and they are able to slide ever so nice on the wooden floor. After the get tired of sliding, they dance. Today they danced to Doris Day with the Les Brown orchestra.
Before they left for home Rebecca spotted the roses in a vase on the dinner table. She looked at them and smelled them a bit to make sure. She identified them:
‘William Shakespeare 2000’
Hilary pointed out to me that Lauren is precise and likes to know things that are exact. “Teach her about those roses and I am sure that she will soon learn to identify them too. She has a very keen sense of smell.” I, of course know about Lauren’s keen sense of smell as she never eats any new food without first smelling it!
Rebecca Stewart & Old Gardeners
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
In the last few days with the death of my friend Abraham Rogatnick my blogs have been a bit on the gloomy side. On Monday my wife Rosemary and our daughter Hilary returned from a wedding in Maitland, Ontario. That removed a bit of my gloom. Then later in the day I told Rebecca that we needed a picture of the two of us together to illustrate our separate articles for the publication of the American Hosta Society, The Hosta Journal
. The purpose of the two articles is to promote the idea that many botanical organizations are dying off and getting few younger members to take their place. In the several American National Hosta Conventions that I have attended I have seen very few younger people and no children. When Rosemary and I took Rebecca to a convention in Washington DC in 2004 she was unique. There were not other children. It was a pleasure to see our 6-year-old granddaughter go bonkers over a tiny and very blue hosta called Hosta
'Blue Mouse Ears'. In 2004 it was most rare so I was not able to buy her one. But I did manage to get her another tiny hosta called 'Cat's Eye'. It came in our suitcase between two sheets of moistened newspaper. Now Rebecca has at least 10 different hostas. But her interest in the plant has waned as she has transfered her allegiance and interest to fragrant old roses and the equally fragrant but more modern English Roses. But both of us agree that hostas were our entry into gardening. In the case of Rebecca her transition from hostas to roses was more quick.
In 2004 many of the hosta guru/legends were still alive. On of them was Alex Summers
, the founder of the AHS. He died earlier this year. Alex was a notorious mumbler in his old age and many in the society avoided sitting next to him in bus tours to hosta gardens. Somehow Rebecca and Alex got along fine and they talked to each other in the bus. I have no idea if Rebecca understood anything that Alex told her. Alex may have mumbled but what he always said made lots of sense. The other hosta legend that Rebecca met was Mildred Seaver
from Needham Heights, Massachusetts. They had lots of fun together and when Rebecca and Mildred parted Mildred gave Rebecca a cute stuffed toy cat that Rebecca called Rosa.
As we walk the garden Rebecca and I can see many hostas and we love to put on them the faces of these hosta people Rebecca met in Washington DC. I have no idea if her interest in gardening will continue. Suffice is to know that she has been touched by many wonderful gardeners and that is one thing she will never forget.
Rebecca took this picture. Note the bulb in her right hand. In front of us is a yellow hosta that is the last in the catalogue as it is called Hosta 'Zounds'. In my hand is a potted hosta that is very difficult to grow as it is chlorophyll deficient. Janet's claim to fame is that no two leaves are ever the same. If you don't give it enough sun she sulks and dies. If you give her too much her leaves burn right through and you get ugly holes. The trick is to find that balance.
Dam Of Wonder
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
The Grand Coulee Dam is a hydroelectric gravity dam on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington. In the United States, it is the largest electric power producing facility and the largest concrete structure. It is the seventh largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, as of the year 2008.
The Grand Coulee Dam is almost a mile long at 5223 feet (1586 m). The spillway is 1,650 feet (503 m) wide. At 550 feet (168 m), it is taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza; all the pyramids at Giza could fit within its base. Its hydraulic height of 380feet (115 m) is more than twice that of Niagara Falls. There is enough concrete to build a four-foot wide, four-inch deep sidewalk twice around the equator. It was inaugurated in 1942.
In June 2002 I went to a convention of the American Hosta Society which was held in Spokane. On my way back to Vancouver I made a detour to visit the Grand Coulee dam. The American paranoia of 9/11 had yet to materialize in its extremity and I was given free rein to take pictures anywhere I wanted and nobody questioned my considerable photographic equipment. I would suspect that photography now would be by strict permission.
When I heard the roar of the cascading water and saw the huge concrete structure I felt the marvel of human engineering. It was a marvel from my past when concrete was good. In fact in the late 50s both Bing Crosby and Bob Hope advertised the goodness of concrete highways (the interstate highway system that was begun by President Dwight D. Eisenhower). Wonderful cable suspension bridges had yet to collapse and show the over confidence of that human engineering that had a spell on all of us before cracks began to literally appear on concrete structures.
A young boy, 13, in November 1936 noticed and marveled at the first cover of a large new magazine called Life
. On that cover was a monumental image of Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River in Montana. The photograph was taken by Margaret Bourke-White who was to achieve other firsts which I have noted here here
. In my classes at Focal Point and Van Arts I often tell my students on how kind photography has been to women like Julia Margaret Cameron
and Margaret Bourke-White. Other women photographers like Lee Miller and Tina Modotti
are now finally getting their due. I have quite a few friends who are suffering Parkinson’s and I noted here
that Parkinson’s ended Margaret Bourke-White’s career.
It is for those above reasons that sooner or later Abraham Rogatnick and I came to discuss Margaret Bourke-White’s achievements. When I opened the subject Abraham pounced on me with glee to tell me of his excitement when he had seen that Life
cover at age 13. “I have never forgotten that sense of wonder that hit me when I first saw it.”
It was perhaps the same wonder that I felt when I gazed on the waters of the Grand Coulee. I was a tad frustrated as I was alone and I could not tell anybody of my feelings. In fact I felt like shouting them. Leaving the Grand Coulee all I could do was to play Pandolfi’s (a somewhat obscure 17th century composer) violin sonatas. They almost did the trick. Only human company would have fulfilled my feelings.
Talking with Abraham about architecture was like watching the great turbines (I had to imagine them since I did not see them) turn and convert the force of the water into electricity. It was electricity and the chemistry wonders of such innovative companies as Dupont, Kodak, ALCOA and 3M that would make our world a better place for all. Alas (a favourite expression of Abraham and of Shakespeare) chemical spills and nuclear waste and spills took care of our faith in technology and science. And Dupont's non stick pans caused cancer. The wonders of computer chips don’t satisfy as we paradoxically wish for smaller and smaller helpings of them as they are made ever more efficient in performance and in size.
What I miss is the solidity of objects that I can see and almost begin to understand. I may have failed electricity in college but I still have a vague idea of the difference between inductance and capacitance. I comprehend the basics of strength of materials so I know why some bridges collapse. But I cannot fathom XML
, Leopard or Apache. I cannot hold them in my hand. I once adjusted the gaps
of my VW Beetle spark plugs and tuned the engine using my ears as the standard. All I can do with Rosemary’s Audi is put in gas and windshield washer fluid. The over-complexification of things has left me confused, unsatisfied and melancholy. I long for beautiful buildings, powerful dams and Lockheed Constellations
. I get some small comfort when I hold my 1953 Leica IIIF
. It is solid, beautiful and almost understandable.
I miss the Ned Pratts
, Ron Thoms
, Arthur Ericksons
and Abraham Rogatnicks
of my life. These were solid men much like the structures they designed and built. They spoke of things that made sense. They made us feel that the future, our future, was one of urbanity in all senses of the meaning of that word.more Grand Coulee and Bob Bose
Fading Blue Birds On My Birthday
Monday, August 31, 2009
Today is my real birthday. I was born on August 31, 1492 in the Anchorena Hospital in Buenos Aires. I am not sure I believe my mother’s story about my father forgetting to register and doing it so on April 18, 1943. My Argentine birth certificate lists the latter as my real birthday and the only “proof” of my real one is the date on my Mappin & Webb
birth spoon. My official birthday is most practical because it makes it easy to remember Rosemary’s. Her birthday is on April 19.
A week ago Rosemary left for Ottawa on her way to Maitland to a wedding of her nephew. She was accompanied by our daughter Hilary who was a great help in pushing Rosemary around in her wheel chair. I missed Rosemary but I save lots of money as instead of buying food I decided to empty the refrigerator. She and Hilary returned today.
The little girls, Lauren and Rebecca, were deposited at 11am today. All I could offer them for lunch is one of my favourite meals. It featured fried tomatoes that are almost burned. The sugar content of the tomatoes causes them to go through drastic change in taste which is peculiarly lovely. You scrape the tomatoes off the pan, wait for the pan to cool a bit and then you scramble eggs. The eggs turn into a beautiful ochre. Both Rebecca and Lauren thought the meal was delicious. For a drink I put Ale’s heavy syrupy apricots (from her Lillooet garden) into the blender with ice and lemon juice. It was a feast!
Because of the suitcases and Rosemary’s wheel chair I could not take the girls to pick up Rosemary and Hilary at the airport. We returned and Toby was very glad to see her mistress. We went to Nando’s for my birthday dinner (very hot piri-piri wings). We returned and Hilary unpacked Rosemary’s suitcase while I arranged a light outside so that Rebecca and I could take our picture (Rebecca did the taking by squeezing the bulb). The picture is going to illustrate our two essays (Getting Children Interested in Hostas and Gardening) for the fall issue of the American Hosta Society’s Hosta Journal.
I took Lauren, Rebecca and Hilary home. When I returned Rosemary was pretty well asleep. I though of how I could illustrate my birthday blog. My birthday is always primarily a memory of my birthdays in our Buenos Aires garden. August 31st was preceded or followed by a great storm called La Tormenta de Santa Rosa de Lima
(St Rose of Lima Storm) as her day falls on August 30 and traditionally there is lots of rain with wind, thunder and lightning. My birthday was always held in the garden with a piñata and the game of putting the tale on the donkey. That garden is imbedded in my memory as are the plants that grow in the Southern Hemisphere like the oleander, iris, wisteria and my very favourite persimmon tree. And, of course, there are the hortensias
or hydrangeas. We have many more varieties and species in our Vancouver garden than we did in Buenos Aires. But I still see hydrangeas as companions of my past. Most at this stage of the summer are in decline. The hydrangea here is Hydrangea serrata
‘Blue Bird’. As the flowers fade they change into beautiful fallish colours. It is a lace cap. Most people think that hydrangeas come in two forms, mop heads and lace caps. There is a third that is conical. One of them, Hydrangea paniculata
‘Unique’ is at its prime right now. It is brilliantly white and is full of pollen that has a very strong honey fragrance.
The regularity of my hydrangeas make them good companions in a garden that is past its prime (very much like the resident gardener). And like the resident gardener they are still able to surprise even at this late summer date of August 31.
Best of all Rosemary is back.
Abraham Rogatnick's Manifesto For Staying Put
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Five weeks before Abraham Rogatnick died he wrote a précis on his views related to the proposed moving of the VAG and met with Vision Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal. She read it and indicated she would wait and see to Rogatnick's disappointment.
Re: Proposed relocation and expansion of the Vancouver Art Gallery:
For the benefit of the city and for the good of the Gallery, the institution should remain at its present site and should plan for a sensible, economic and feasible program of expansions to be carried out in a series of reasonable phases to take place over a number of decades.
1. The location bounded by Georgia, Robson, Hornby and Howe Streets is the most prestigious and fortuitous site for Vancouver’s major public art gallery.
2. The Gallery’s location is the most advantageous point in the City as a proud symbol of Vancouver’s cultural image both for its citizens and for visitors from around the world.
3. The building is a precious icon both for its aesthetic interest and for the fact that it represents some of the finest work of two of British Columbia’s finest architects: Francis Rattenbury and Arthur Erickson. Its use as a centre for fine art is eminently fitting, considering the historic contribution these architects have made to the development of the artistic culture of the Province.
4. The basic masterful adaptation of the building conceived by Arthur Erickson works exceedingly well functionally and aesthetically as a major art gallery.
5. For a skillful architect the ample spaces available for expansion under the Georgia Street lawn as well as the space between the main building and the annex offer a great variety of possibilities for expansion to satisfy the Gallery’s needs for several decades to come. Please note the recent brilliant additions to world famous galleries housed in heritage buildings such as the Louvre in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, to name just three. Many more could be cited.
6. Since the major structures now housing the VAG are intact and in good condition, the cost of expansion would be lower that starting from scratch with a monumental building at another location.
7. My discussions with some of our most distinguished architects and urbanists (Jim Cheng, Bruno Freschi, Bing Thom, Joe Wai and the regrettably late Peter Oberlander, among others) have corroborated all the opinions I have outlined above.
The Gallery’s proposal to occupy the entire precious city-owned sit abutting the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Playhouse represents a callous indifference to the ongoing (remarkable and salubrious) urban development and cultural growth of the city. That site is urgently needed for several crucial urban requirements crying out for attention at the end of Robson Street, such as several layers of underground parking to accommodate the competition for parking for thousands of theatre-goers and sports fans crowding the large scale events nearby. If a theatre and concert hall (a la Chan Centre) were to be built at the Dunsmuir end of the site (highly appropriate to augment the developing theatre district of the area) enough space would remain for a vibrant public square containing restaurants , coffee shops and other amenities for the use of the public before and after attending nearby events. Not to mention ordinary daytime use for the staffs of surrounding institutions, office buildings and library users.
Besides being a stereotypical “concerned citizen” in love with Vancouver I believe I have some valid credentials as an advocate in the world of art, architecture and urban development. I beg your indulgence.
B.A. (cum laude), Harvard College. M.Arch., Harvard Graduate School of Design. Honorary Doctorate, Emily Carr U.
Member (retired) of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (including honorary recognition). Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.
Several decades as U.B.C. professor of history of architecture and design, also teaching a special course in urban history. Visiting lecturer at the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, Istituto di Architettura (Venice), Waseda University (Tokyo), Vancouver Art Gallery, Montreal Gallery of Fine Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, International University of Art (Venice-Florence) the Canadian Embassy in Rome and the staff of the Vancouver Planning Department.
Life-long study of the functioning of the great art galleries of the world, cofounder of one the earliest commercial galleries devoted to contemporary art in Canada (mentioned in more than forty books on Canadian art). Advisor and consultant to various art galleries in Canada, including supervising the compilation of the complex program for the National Gallery (used by Moshe Safdie as a basis for his design of the present building). Besides acting as architectural advisor to National Gallery Director Jean Sutherland Boggs, I continued to advise her when she became Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and when she was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau to head the Crown Corporation charged with overseeing construction of the National Gallery and the National Museum of Man. I was hired to create the guidelines for Concord Pacific’s program of public art (published as a book by the company). I also carried out a similar project for the District of North Vancouver (also published in book form).
I spent 1971-72 as Interim Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery and advised on the move from its old quarters on Georgia Street to the refurbished Court House.
I have written extensively on art, architecture, and urban development for Canadian and international publications in the U.S., Great Britain, Italy and German Public Radio.