My Scary Girls Weren't Scared
Saturday, December 12, 2009
In the compression of memory that might just be its normal course, as one gets old, is my memory of two films I saw in 1960. One of them was supposed to be my first dirty movie and I dragged my roommates from the Catholic boarding school St. Edward's in Austin, Texas. In spite of its title, The Virgin Spring
was not a “dirty” movie but the first Ingmar Bergman film I saw. The other film was The House of Usher
, shortened from Edgar Allan Poe's story title, The Fall of the House of Usher
. As I sat in the little movie house on Congress Avenue I could never have suspected that I would one day photograph both its star, Vincent Price
and its noted producer Samuel Z. Arkoff
In my memory was the vision of Vincent Price (as Roderick Usher) playing a harpsichord. The other vision was of Technicolor blood oozing from the walls. I was 18 years old and the film scared me. It had to. It left that lasting impression considering that I went to the movies much more then. Yet I only remember those two, the dirty film that wasn't and The House of Usher.
Last week I read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial
after lunch to Rosemary and Rebecca. They both hated it. Rebecca tried to stop me, telling me that if I persisted she was going to pull out her hair. This she did, to my astonishment. I did not think it appropriate to quote Poe, "Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations." Rebecca objected to all the words she did not know the meaning of but left the table knowing three facts:
1. Edgar Allan Poe was American.
2. He was an author.
3. He was born in 1809.
I think that is pretty good. Chatting recently with two Canadian men, one is 27 and the other in his late 30s I was incredulous that both did not know who Robert E. Lee was. But as memory of the distant past recedes to be replaced by memories of a not so distant past, I think I understand.
Because Rebecca was so against the work of Edgar Allan Poe I decided on the tack of hitting again but from an ancillary quarter, the film. I must report that the girls enjoyed the movie, Vincent Price played a lute and did not play a harpsichord. Rebecca pointed out, “Papi there was no blood oozing from the walls.” In what was supposed to be one of the scariest parts of the movie, Rebecca tried to block Lauren's vision. She became very angry and shouted, “I want to see this.”
Neither girls found the film scary at all.
4. Rebecca knows more about catalepsy than your average 12-year-old. ...and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher".
The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe, September 1839A Gap in Poe's life
Seriously Serious Children
Friday, December 11, 2009
In 1955 my grandmother, my mother and I went to see John Ford’s The Long Gray Line
with Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara and Ward Bond. Power plays an Irish immigrant who becomes a career non-commissioned officer at West Point. It was a terrific film then and has remained so in subsequent viewings.
I was 13 at the time and I distinctly remember that we saw the film at a beautiful movie house called Cine Metropolitan on Calle Independencia in Mexico City. This theater survived and is now just that, a theatre. I remember as we walked out on to Calle Independencia that my grandmother told my mother, “This film would suggest that the Americans see a war that is coming soon. The purpose of the film is to get viewers ready for war.” My grandmother was wrong as Vietnam happened quite a few years later. She was right when she took her family away from the Philippines to the United States in the 20s when she saw no future for them. She was a young widow who because of her social status (high) would not be able to find a job in Manila. She got her job in New York and prospered until she saw the stock market crash coming and moved back to Manila. She foresaw the winds of war and moved again to Buenos Aires in 1939. She persuaded my mother to move to Mexico City before Perón fell when his minions were burning churches. We were safe in Mexico City when the Argentine Navy shelled and bombed Plaza de Mayo killing many civilians.
Since I was old enough to understand I can remember my mother and grandmother talking of issues that were adult issues. They either thought I would not understand or they thought I would.
And so I was left with that memory of an impending war that never came that afternoon outside the Cine Metropolitan as the memory of those long gray lines of marching soldiers and watching Maureen O’Hara with tears in her eyes glory at the special remembrance of her husband, the non-commissioned officer that was played by Tyrone Power. Only now do I see that this film was simply a military version of Goodbye Mr. Chips
Some years before in the late 40s and early 50s my father and my mother had taken me to late shows in downtown Buenos Aires. Some of the films I remember vividly such as Beau Geste, Destination Moon and The Robe
. I wonder if they ever worried that films had too much adult content. I think that to them this may have been irrelevant.
By the mid 50s my mother was handing me novels that she enjoyed and I began reading Frank G. Slaughter and Frank Yerby whose novels gave me my first indication of what birds and bees really did. She recommended Daphne Du Maurier
and Spanish writer Salvador de Madariaga.
In spite of it all I do think I had a childhood and I played my fair share of pirate situations with wooden swords or war games with toy soldiers. I remember annoying my mother as I made the foxholes on her nice Buenos Aires lawns. She gave me money to buy caps for my Gene Autry Colt. At the same time I believe that she never did talk down to me as if I were only a child. I was something more.
Yesterday I took Lauren (all dolled up in a red dress and black patent leather shoes to a show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The show featured a local rock band for youth called Duplex
. They were a seriously good rock band that had lyrics that would satisfy both an adult and a child. An adult would have been impressed by the sophistication of their lyrics. Lauren appreciated such songs as Eat Your Salad
and This Is How You Make a Sandwich.
These shows begin at 7 and never run more than an hour. The Cultch has a special plan that makes it relatively inexpensive to take children 12 or over.
We arrived early as there was free pizza. The Cultch is attempting to draw out families to see live shows featuring theatre, music or dance. Perhaps if enough children go to enough shows a pattern will be set in their lives for an appreciation for live performances that go beyond juvenile shows on TV. This, I believe is a laudable effort.
Lauren would not have been caught dead dancing on the dance floor with the other children. She was sitting next to me looking like a child adult. I wonder if this is how I looked to my father and mother. Lauren noticed everything and told me “I had fun and I liked the pizza.”
Tonight I am going with Rebecca (12) to the Firehall Theatre to see Company Erasga’s modern dance performance, Adam-Eve/ Man-Woman featuring the choreography of Alvin Erasga Tolentino
with dancers Alison Denham
and Billy Marchenski.
We know for sure that at least at the beginning both Denham and Marchenski will be firmly ensconced in Paradise with nary a fig leaf. Rebecca is a veteran of nudity in modern dance (she saw Slab when she was 6 or 7). I wonder if my mother would have taken me to such a performance had there been one in Buenos Aires at the time.
I wonder, and I wonder, but I do suspect that I am going in the right direction in my contribution to the education of Lauren and Rebecca. They giggle and they laugh but they know how to be serious when the situation dictates and when they face my camera.
Agave attenuata, Lauren Stewart & Emily
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I saw little Lauren much like a surrogate Alice
She had one foot here (Vancouver) and one foot there
in that magic land that is Mexico
Agave attenuata - Bloedel Conservatory
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
, Bloedel Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park
Urban Avian Navigation
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Edgar George Baynes was born at Braintree, Essex, England in 1870. He started his apprenticeship as a carpenter with Joseph Franklyn, "Coffin Maker & Cabinet Work", in a shop in Great Dunmow. When Franklyn and his family immigrated to Canada, Baynes came with them, arriving in Vancouver in April 1889. Baynes worked on a number of projects with another young carpenter, Will Horie; the two of them became friends and in 1893 established the contracting firm of Baynes & Horie. Baynes was married in 1899, and in 1906 built a large concrete block house at 1200 West Broadway in Vancouver that the family occupied for over fifty years.
Baynes & Horie were very successful, and prospered as the lower Mainland developed in the boom years before the First World War. The firm also designed many of these projects, including the Grosvenor Hotel (1913), which Baynes owned and managed until his death at the age of 87. In order to supply bricks for their many projects, in 1907 Baynes and Horie, along with Harold Burnet, formed the Port Haney Brick Works, which operated continuously for the next seventy years, providing drain tile for the Fraser Valley and clay partition tile as well as their trademark bricks.
From The Historic Communities of Maple Ridge
I took the picture above on a dreary day in December 1994. It was all that was left that proved that some years before there had been an understated and elegant hotel called the Grosvenor Hotel. It was on Howe Street almost at the corner with Robson. In the hotel there was a fashionable (for those with good taste like yours truly!) who frequented the African safari motif bar called Livingstone’s. It was low key and I vaguely remember that the food was good two. The hotel was demolished to make way what soon became Chapters and an expensive furniture store. Right behind is one of my favourite buildings in Vancouver that for some years was the headquarters of Kodak. They had a couple of floors which were linked by a beautiful spiral staircase. There were plants (and even trees) that made the floors look like the mini-hanging-gardens of Babylon. For a few years part of the ceramic plaque that marked the entrance to Livingston’s remained. It was like a baby tooth that is left dangling until your mother asks you to open your mouth and with no advance warning pulls it out.
One day the merry explorer was gone and soon gone from the memory of most of us. Sometimes when I walk on Howe I feel the presence of something. I know that in some way we humans can be like birds. We have embedded somewhere in our brain a little navigational antenna that tells us that there is a reference point, a little beacon, that we can use to guide us home. The reference point is gone and every day home seems to be less like home.
I have a vague memory about running into someone who told me of knowing who had taken the tiles that were missing from the right side of the picture. I am not sure if my memory serves me well or simply the tiles always had a missing side?
Arroz Con Leche & The Señorita From San Nicolás
Monday, December 07, 2009
Today I spotted a pan with a couple of cups of two-day old white rice and suddenly I longed for arroz con leche.
Arroz con Leche
Arroz con leche,
Me quiero casar
con una señorita de San Nicolás,
que sepa bordar,
que sepa tejer,
que sepa abrir la puerta par ir a jugar.
Con ésta sí
con ésta no,
con esta señorita me caso yo
I want to marry
a señorita from San Nicolás,
she must know how to embroider
she must know how to knit,
she must know how to open the door to go out and play.
With this one yes
with this one no,
this señorita I will marry.
Since I can remember I knew the lyrics to this song. It is sung in Spain and everywhere else the Spaniards went. The Argentine version includes the town of San Nicolás which is in the Province of Buenos Aires.
Anbody who reads this might be surprised that I consider myself a connoisseur of the lowly postre
(dessert) that many Latin American dismiss until they miss it.
The principal ingredients are rice, milk, sugar and a pinch of salt. Some add (I do) lemon or orange zest, vanilla (I do), a cinnamon stick (I do) and fewer still cardamom. Cardamon is a late ingredient for me as in India rice pudding is a specialty and cardamom is an important ingredient. I had not tried this Indian version until a couple of years ago. The cardamon somehow makes the cold pudding seem colder and ever more refreshing. I would never put raisins in my pudding. It would seem to me as uncouth as slathering catsup on French fries or smashing saltines over any kind of chowder. Juan Manuel Sanchez, my Argentine artist friend, made a killer rice pudding but he added slices of lemon which in my mind ruined it. The final touch to ice cold (not hot pudding for me) arroz con leche is a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon.
I have had arroz con leche in hundreds of places, in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Perú, Mexico and Texas. Would you believe that the best rice pudding I ever had was on the Spirit of Vancouver ferry buffet on my way to Vancouver Island? I would kill for that recipe. Somehow the chef does not cook the milk too much as the pudding is a startling white concoction that contrasts most favorably to my yellowed version which I cook for hours so that the milk and the sugar caramelize.
It is 5pm and my pudding is cooling in the fridge. Rebecca spooned the pan and when I wasn’t watching helped herself to a bowl of the still hot dessert.
She might not yet know how to knit or embroider but Rebecca certainly could be that señorita from San Nicolás. She knows a good rice pudding when she sees one.
Both Rebecca and I will watch Lauren tonight and see if she will like it. This will be the ultimate test as Lauren is precisely demanding about that which she is willing to eat.
The Exquisite Lethargy & Melancholy Of Fiacca
Sunday, December 06, 2009
1. adj. coloq. Arg.
Perezoso, indolente, desganado. U. t. c. s.
2. f. coloq. Arg.
Real Academia Española © Todos los derechos reservados
Saturday night when Hilary was sitting by the fireplace I put on some Piazzolla. I picked my favourite Piazzolla piece which happens to be Hilary’s favourite. It is La Milonga del Angel
. Hilary likes it because it is melancholy, soft and romantic. Just like I sometimes like to put myself in a melancholy mood Hilary explained to a curious Rebecca, “I like la Milonga del Angel because it makes me warmly sad. And sometimes, like in these dark and cold nights, that is a good thing.” Rosemary stared at my sad face and said, “You are going to have to go to Buenos Aires, even if it is by yourself.” She knows we don’t have the money for such a trip but she recognizes Argentine nostalgia when she sees it.
It did not get much better on Sunday. Dealing with a plumbing problem in my darkroom was not a pleasant way to spend the afternoon as Rosemary struggled with mastering the inserting of pictures into her Word invoice that she was working for the school course she is taking these months.
Luckily I remembered that Patricia and Robert (my neighbours) have been inviting me to watch the Italian Salvo Montalbano TV series (based on the novels by Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri) every Sunday at 7:30. Patricia purchased a box set in the US of 16 episodes that have been a hit not only in Italy but in Australia!
They are around one hour and forty minutes long and they are slow to move as there is a lot of character development.
For me the show strikes my inside in an intimate way. I saw one Montalbano episode two months ago at the downtown Istituto Italiano di Cultura. I went with my friend John Lekich who was charmed by the fact that we were sitting next to an elderly Italian couple who were kibitzing the events as they unfolded. Luca Zingaretti, below, plays the shortish and stubby Inspector Montalbano to perfection. Not that I knew that when I first saw that first episode as I had yet to read the books. But once I had read all of the 10 (that have been translated from the Italian) that first installment set the scene to make my vision of Zingaretti as the only Montalbano.
As I watched last night savouring a beautiful Marks & Spencer tea (Robert is English) I was struck how certain stuff could never be made by North Americans or even the English. This series unfolds slowly with the subtlety of expressions in the protagonists. I almost don’t need to read the English subtitles (aside from the fact that some of that Italian sounds a lot like Argentine Spanish!). I can almost read their thoughts. I feel how they feel. The actors are full of a humanity that goes beyond the skin deep beauty of the women of the show and the handsome and womanizing Mimi Augello played by Cesare Bocci, who is Montalbano’s closest assistant. I left the show and as I was walking home I missed the heat of Buenos Aires summers (almost as stifling as the Sicilian ones) and the loud gesturing of the characters mimicked by Argentines who are not necessarily Italian.
The episode we watched last night was called Montalbano’s Croquettes
(Gli Arancini di Montalbano) and is was quite seasonal as the action happens between Christmas and New Year’s. When I saw Montalbano’s cleaning lady and cook, Natalia, place her roundly pyramidal rice croquettes into her deep fryer I was suddenly hit by nostalgia for the croquettes that our Mercedes (our live in cook and cleaning lady in Buenos Aires) made for us. I do believe that our Spanish for crunchy, crocante
, is a tad more special and effective in describing what goes one in one's mouth when one bites on a rice croquette.
I was also hit by lethargy to do nothing when I got home. In Argentina I would have said, “Tengo fiaca
.” This means I feel lazy. A lazy person in Argentina is a fiacudo
. A nearby town to where Salvo Montalbano works is called Fiacca in the series. I investigated and found that Camilleri simply changed the real costal town of Sciacca to Fiacca and indeed in Italian fiacca means exactly what it means in Argentine Spanish.
I look forward to more Montalbano in those slow days after Christmas and before New Years. I have already looked up a few recipes for croquettes. My Argentine nostalgia makes me long a slice of pizza (the smell of an Argentine pizzeria is in my memory of scents) at Las Cuartetas on Calle Corrientes. I caught the foursome at Las Cuartetas some years ago as I ate my porción (slice) parado
(standing up). It is mandatory to find a pizza joint where you can eat your pizza in a hurry. If it is really good you will linger, eat it slowly and wait for the next big pizza to be removed from the oven. It was a Las Cuartetas where my father took me after an evening of Westerns on Avenida Lavalle. It was at Las Cuartetas that my two daughters (when they were in their late teens and early 20s) made a pilgrimage. They told the man behind he counter that their father and grandfather had often come to eat a slice. They told him that as a sailor their father had come up from his office near the Naval Ministry to have his pizza. The man behind the counter placed two very large plates of sopa inglesa (translates to English soup). He told my daughters that it was on the house. Ale and Hilary did not know that sopa inglesa is an Italian/Argentine version of trifle and that it is usually loaded with brandy. They left holding on to each other for balance.