An Apology For My Rosy PastFriday, March 05, 2010
Some of you might suspect that I am running out of ideas and inspiration to write my daily blog and that I am getting ready to shelve the now four-year-plus project. This would be far from the truth as I have no problem in drumming up stuff to put up here. If anything one of my problems is to stop my desire for multiple blogs in one day. This is a rare example of one.
So why is it that I am resorting to pulling a Lazarus on articles written many years ago by writers that I admired who worked for the magazine, Vancouver Magazine, run by Mac (a.k.a Malcolm ) Parry? You might suspect that to anybody my age (67) the past will always be rosier and better. In fact I would not agree with you. So much stuff nowadays is so much better.
When we arrived to Vancouver in 1975 the city’s bread was a distinct but nondescript variety of cardboard. I longed for the bolillos of Mexico and the handmade corn tortillas. But it has all changed. Even Safeway now bakes a credible croissant and a three-cheese focaccia. My wife’s Sony clock radio (with a CD player) sounds better than some of my early stereo systems of of rosy yesteryear. The plastic housing of modern lenses might not have the heft or the feel of my old Takumars and Nikkors but their computer designed optics surpasses my old clunkers in performance. And to end all arguments about that rose and better past what would be your old-fashioned equivalent to modern Viagra?
Nevertheless I don’t completely accept that the present is better than the past. My granddaughter Rebecca refuses to use my mother’s cook books. She will not consult Mary Lou Glass’s Recipe for Two (1947), Rombauer/ Becker, The Joy of Cooking (1953 Edition) or Marion Brown’s The Southern Cook Book (1968). But although she says that the recipes she finds on the internet are better because they are more modern she will have several helpings of Adalyn Lindley’s Chicken a la Barbara from the latter Southern Cook Book when I prepare it for some of our Saturday dinners.
What these stories and essays from the past do prove is that during Mac Parry’s stewardship of Vancouver Magazine from April 1974 to December 1988 we had a lively, intimate, warm, interesting, challenging city magazine that was visually arresting with many illustrators and photographers who contributed. The magazine had a policy of monthly “piss-ups” where contributors would feast on terrible chips and cheap raw-tasting Portuguese Vinho Verde or beer. Writers, illustrators and photographers would compare notes and ideas would spring from these for future issues of the magazine.
It was Mati Laansoo (who is not ashamed to admit to have eaten dog), an Estonian writer with Texan tendencies to collect small arms and store them under his pillow who recently told me, “Mac was like William Shawn. He liked to surround himself with a variety of good writers, and illustrators and he encouraged them to give their all.”
It was Mac Parry who first instigated me to write my first piece on my experiences as a sailor in the Argentine Navy. I remember a young man who came in one day with slides of people wearing Hawaii T-shirts. He ran a piece on that subject a few months later. One of the pictures featured a Santa Claus attached to two scantily clad (tiny T-shirts) in Hawaii which elicited hate mail a few hours after the magazine hit the stands.
This was indeed the case when Laansoo’s Over There hit the March 1982 stands. There were letters and furious phone calls from pet lovers.
I remember that March 1982 very well. A month before Mac had taken me to the Cecil Hotel for a beer and told me, “Sean Rossiter has written a piece about his cat. It has cancer. I want you to go home and photograph your cat and make sure its whiskers are sharp. But I did not only have the cover. I also had some interesting pictures for a piece written by Les Wiseman.
At the time writer Les Wiseman and were avid followers of the descendants of Salome and we came up with a ploy to convince Mac that it was worth a feature. We convinced him on the business side of exotic dancing.
I think that in 1982 Mac had skillfully managed to keep his independence as an editor from the hands of our publisher Ronald Stern. It seemed like Mac could run articles about nonsense (such as the piece by Ben Metcalfe in this blog a few days past) or wild dogs in Iran and Stern would not protest about these stories not having the substance to attract advertisers to the magazine’s pages. In fact Mac came up with the idea for running two different covers that March. One was to feature the cat and the other a stripper. It would have been an experiment that would have preceded Chicago Magazine’s run a few years later featuring the city’s mayor smiling in one batch and serious in another. Stern quashed the plan and I never had to test the waters of demanding a double cover pay!
The illustration to Laansoo’s piece is by our very own famous illustrator and animator Marv Newland. I suspect that he used a cheap copier type technology to come up with the concept. He did confirm with me (yesterday) that Laansoo did indeed provide him with the restaurant’s bill of sale as proof. In the illustration, the man on the left is Mati Laansoo. The man on the right (described as “my guide”) by Laansoo is Gary Marchant. Marchant wrote what is considered to be one of the best travel columns ever, anywhere, called Faraway Places for Vancouver Magazine.
I remember with great fun the day that Marchant told me a story of traveling through some remote African country (it could have been Chad). He arrived at a small town exhausted and hungry. He inspected the large pot simmering over a fire at his little hotel. He spotted some bones in the stew. The cook gestured with his arms to represent a bird so Marchant assumed the stew was chicken or some similar fowl. He helped himself to a large portion. He was licking his chops when he spotted a little horrific skull staring at him. It was the little head of a bat.
Perhaps my past, or at least my past as a magazine photographer was a rosier one. Perhaps the present with the universal and all-encompassing presence of the net has made those magazines of my era irrelevant. My friend Mark Budgen says I am sentimentalizing it. My friend John Lekich says that those magazines had heart and the present ones don’t. You who read this can be impartial judges.
As for me I remember my grandmother’s words, “Nadie te quita lo bailado.” Nobody can take away from you the pleasures you had. And many pleasures I had reading the stories of Lansoo, Wiseman, Lekich, Marchant, Hunter (Bob), Metcalfe and many others who all wrote from the heart.